Review: PASSENGERS Isn't Quite the Movie the Trailers Claim It Is
Sony is purposefully obscuring a key factor of this movie that isn't so much a shocking reveal as it is the major driving force of the plot. This action occurs very early on in the film, but it's not even hinted at in any of the trailers, so if you don't want to know about it, stop reading now. Consider yourselves warned.
Passengers is a $150 million sci-fi film based on an original idea. It has slick production design, cool visual effects, and it features two of the biggest, hottest movie stars in the world in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. It's a film that seemingly has everything going for it, but the film can't quite escape the feeling that it's less a modern-day blockbuster and more like a '90s movie you'd see in constant rotation on TNT. It has a handful of decent moments, but despite the efforts of everyone involved, there's a hurdle in the story the movie can't quite leap — and it's a doozy.
The film is set on a huge spaceship called the Avalon, which left Earth and is hurtling through the galaxy on its way to a colony planet called Homestead II. In the opening sequence, the ship sails through an asteroid field that it presumably wasn't expected to encounter; though the Avalon diverts a majority of its power to its forward-facing shields, it still gets rocked by a massive asteroid, which jars loose one of the hibernation pods containing one of the ship's 5,000 passengers. It belongs to an affable guy named Jim Preston (Pratt), who takes longer than what seems appropriate to discover that something has gone wrong and he's the only person who's awake. As he explores the ship and talks to its AI systems, Jim is horrified to discover that there's still 90 years to go before the ship reaches Homestead II. And he's all alone.
That's not exactly the scenario you remember from the ads, is it? The marketing hypes the movie as a soaring romance, using the line "there's a reason we woke up early" as the cornerstone for the trailers. You can probably see where this is going.
Jim, an engineer by trade, spends a year attempting to fix his hibernation pod, but it's no use. He's stuck. So he passes the time using the ship's many amenities, playing basketball and video games and drinking with an android bartender (Michael Sheen) in a bar that looks like it'd be right at home in The Shining's Overlook Hotel. It's like the earliest episodes of Will Forte's Fox TV series The Last Man on Earth, but not quite as anarchic. And like that show, Jim gets this close to killing himself because he can't handle the loneliness. But he notices a beautiful woman in a hibernation pod named Aurora Lane (Lawrence), and proceeds to digitally stalk her using the ship's computers. He becomes obsessed, watching video interviews with her, reading all of her work (she was a writer on Earth), and falling in love with her before he even meets her.
Here's where things get troublesome: Jim figures out how to wake her up. The concept haunts him, he knows it would be an atrocious thing to do, and he really struggles with it...but he ultimately does it anyway, and instead of owning up to it right away, he pretends like she was awoken accidentally just like he was. She's frantic about their situation at first, just like he was, but they slowly bond and fall in love.
The idea of Jim falling for Aurora without actually meeting her had potential. That was the movie commenting on how we can do the same thing in our own world thanks to the abundance of information about everyone online. Heck, many of you reading this have probably done this at some point in your lives: saw someone you thought was cute, looked them up on Facebook, read everything about them before talking to them, etc. But instead of doing something interesting with that notion — like maybe condemning that behavior by turning it on its head and having Aurora be somehow different than what she appears — she's exactly what she appears to be. She's Jennifer Lawrence.
So now we have a protagonist who has done something unforgivable, and we're expected to just sit back and be charmed as we watch these two screw their way across the galaxy, knowing that the woman is being lied to the entire time? Yikes. It's a tough ask of the audience, and Pratt and Lawrence are up to the challenge, but that's a massive moral problem right from the start. Other serious conflicts arise that I won't spoil which amp up the action, but none are more meaningful than that one, and once Jim makes his decision (which, again, is very early in the runtime), I don't think the movie ever fully recovers. There are some standout moments — a terrific set piece in a pool comes to mind, and the heat between the two leads works pretty well — and it gives the characters a couple of opportunities to try make things right, but in the end, Passengers is mostly just a predictable, run-of-the-mill movie that happened to get lucky when it came to casting.