Set during what’s presumably the last stage in a Civilization game, a massive ship called the Avalon is on a one hundred twenty year mission to a planet called Homestead II to colonize. Thousands of passengers and crew are on board in stasis, however due to a slight malfunction, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) awakens ninety years early with no power to re-enter stasis. One year later, another passenger Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) awakens as well, and a romance develops between the two doomed to spend the rest of their lives alone on this spaceship.
The visuals are really good, and not just in the CGI effects, but the production design is terrific. You get a real feel for this ship, its vastness and variance. Though the outer corkscrew design is funny at first, it is fairly unique, and the interior looks great. If you had to be trapped on a ship for the rest of your life, this isn’t a bad one. It’s highly technologically advanced, and diverse in recreation and faculties, all of which is shot wonderfully.
Also the characters are decent enough. Though neither is all that interesting, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence perform their desperation well, and are as usual pretty likeable. They have alright chemistry. The portion early on where Jim is on his own is very well done, you feel his hopelessness, and Pratt shows he can perform serious drama as well as charming comedy. Michael Sheen plays a robotic bartender called Arnold who keeps them company, and he’s the most enjoyable character. What then, is the major problem with this movie?
Well simply enough, it’s the story. Though the idea is really promising, the execution doesn’t live up to potential. It also has an unfortunate tendency to handle curious story facets poorly. Early on, there’s a moral dilemma that permeates the rest of the film and it’s a very interesting one. I actually like it a lot, and the hypothetical it poses the audience. But I feel like it would have worked a lot better narratively if it was a twist revealed later on. Because of its placement in the story, it lessens the tension as you’re just waiting for the expected to occur. And there are a few clichés in this movie, some regarding the romance, others with the state of the ship itself.
Hints are repeatedly dropped that whatever woke these passengers early is affecting the ships’ functioning capabilities as well. And this comes to a head in the last act where the movie needs to become a thriller. But the romance and thriller elements don’t really work together and it’s quite distracting. There’s a new element introduced late in the film that’s incredibly pointless and a pure plot device, just as hastily and conveniently done away with. Which is a shame because taken in another direction, it could have led to something much better, some drama you could really sink your teeth into. The climax is pretty frustrating, it’s way too repetitive, not nearly as gripping as it should be, and is trying too hard to wrap up both the thriller and romantic elements that neither is fully satisfying.
And of course there’s a lot this film is borrowing from other science fiction. Every time the characters leave the ship to float outside it’s very reminiscent of Gravity. There are elements of The Martian, Alien, and 2001 in there as well. The design of Arnold’s bar is pretty much a direct rip-off of The Shining with Arnold dressed in the same outfit as that films’ ghostly bartender Lloyd. And then the last act ship malfunction and attempt to fix it is akin to dozens of episodes of Star Trek, only done with a better budget.
Technically, Passengers isn’t a good film. It’s story is pretty sloppy, it doesn’t know how to balance certain elements, and has a poor and fairly predictable last act. But I am still glad I saw it. This movie was directed by Morten Tyldum who previously made The Imitation Game and while Passengers isn’t as good, it has a few more memorable elements to it. The idea behind the story and the set-up itself is really intriguing to me, and the good effects, production design and performances make it believable for a lot of the runtime. Even with the expected plot points and early twist, I appreciated the first couple acts and was curious where it was going to go. In the end, it doesn’t work as a whole, but it’s not quite a waste of time. Just don’t pay full price.