Ever wonder what’d happen if Nicholas Sparks somehow got his hands on a Stephen King script, and went all “sappy love story” on it while butchering the intended dread? That, in a sense, is Passengers – a creeper-feature that somehow blossoms into romantic sci-fi schmaltz about a girl who’s literally forced into loving someone.
What a great message. If your crush doesn’t reciprocate feelings (or is catatonic), tamper with her life (or transport pod) and trick her into starry-eyed lustiness. Wrong and right don’t matter when it comes to love! She’ll come around in the end, because you (the male) dictate all scenarios. Kinda like if Misery gender-flipped and went celestial, where James Caan ends up loving Kathy Bates anyway.
Before even attempting a plot recap, I’m blanketing the rest of my review in a SPOILER WARNING. There’s no way to address gaping plot holes and beyond-questionable ethics that make Passengers far more of a horror story than some intergalactic rom-com. Read on at your own will.
Still here? Then allow me to proceed…
Chris Pratt plays engineer Jim Preston. He’s currently aboard the Starship Avalon, cryogenically frozen with 5,000 other passengers (and 200-something crew) hurtling towards a new colonization planet (Homestead II). In transit, a large meteor collides with the ship’s shield, causes a glitch and wakes Jim up – 90 years too early. He must now face the reality of dying aboard the Avalon – alone – before ever reaching Homestead II and starting a new life. “Shit,” right?
After over a year of metallic isolation, Jim stumbles upon the sleeping pod of a beautiful woman, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), and an idea is hatched. Why die alone when you can use your mechanical skills to override someone else’s pod and steal their life for you own selfish reasons? Arthur (Michael Sheen) – the ship’s
robot android bartender who Jim confides in – tries to help with Hallmark wisdom, but eventually it happens. Jim toys with an important-looking chip, the pod opens and Aurora wakes up, thinking her early rejuvenation was the product of malfunctions. Cue love, finality and all the messiness in between. Not, like, cutesy “he loves her, she plays coy until realizing what a stud he is” messiness, either.
First off, let’s quickly highlight the internet’s hot-button issue surrounding Passengers – moral ambiguity. Jim cyber stalks (watches Aurora’s digital video profile while she sleeps), kidnaps (wakes her up) and lies his way into her heart. This is bad, but if addressed properly, could make for a compelling thriller once Aurora finds out – which she does. Here’s where she never forgives him, and is doomed to die alone with a desperate man who hijacked her fate without consent, right?! The moment where Passengers shifts into this obsession fantasy that punishes Jim for taking someone’s life into his own hands?! Oh man, what an exploration awaits these not-so-star-crossed lovers – wait, that doesn’t happen?
Right. Once Aurora finds out, she’s disgusted with Jim. Refuses to even tolerate his chiseled form lurking around hallways. He tries to approach her in the mess hall, but she won’t even make eye contact. Arthur gets slapped with visitation rights, so they can both drink away the sorrow of loneliness. Aurora even has an opportunity to end Jim’s life and bring about some closure to her doomed fate. She positions herself over his bed with a crowbar, ready to lay a final blow – but, alas she can’t. How can she kill the man she’d been sexing off-screen for so many months (PG-13 sexiness)?
All those good memories of playing virtual reality Dance Dance Revolution, and being allowed to win at basketball because you always let the alluring vixen in yoga pants win. Jim was just lonely and needed a friend/f*#k-buddy/shotgun wedding. Why not just make the best of it and reconnect while trying to prevent the ship from blowing up?
Right, sorry. Glanced over THAT detail. Laurence Fishburne shows up as deckhand Gus Mancuso (because what sci-fi movie isn’t he in?), another poor sap whose pod malfunctioned. Jim had been noticing certain aspects of the Avalon not working correctly (screen glitches, cleaning robots committing suicide, a cereal machine that vomits generic-brand bits), and Gus confirms they’re all going to die if the cause isn’t discovered. Unfortunately, Gus’ pod didn’t calibrate his own body correctly, and he’s doomed to die after only a day or so. Looks like it’s up to Jim and Aurora to put the past behind them and save 5,000 sleepy colonials – the cure to all relationship woes (even stalking and kidnapping and lying).
Tyldum and writer Jon Spaihts have been using the “that’s what anyone would do” defense thus far during their press tour, and frankly, with certain validity. Jim is a desperate character probably battling psychosis in addition to terrible facial hair and entire months of not wearing pants. The mental toll of living over a year without ANY human interaction has to leave lasting effects, some of which might drive a man/woman to insane conclusions (a drowning man always brings someone with him, as Gus says).
Other people might do the same – BUT THIS DOESN’T MAKE IT RIGHT. Jim is let off with a few punches to the face mid-slumber, some cold glances and dramatic exchanges (women, am I right?!), only to be rewarded with Aurora’s undying love for the rest of their space-soaring lives. Jim even offers Aurora a solution to her broken pod (the medical bay can suspend only one person until reaching Homestead II), but she chooses to stay with Jim, make a Swiss Family Robinson life with him and prove that love may thrive where you least expect it – like, the LAST place.
Oh, PLOT HOLE. The Avalon is filled with resources meant for the colonists of Homestead II. Trees trapped in sustainable jars, frozen livestock, so on and so forth. So what do Jim and Aurora do? Much to Captain Andy Garcia’s surprise (You know, Captain Norris! The man who opens a door once and has zero lines!), the imprisoned lovebirds release ALL THE LIVESTOCK AND PLANT ALL THE NATURE around their quaint little treehouse (oh, they build a treehouse), because you make the most of your situation. That’s the theme echoed over and over again. Be happy where you are, not caught up on where you’re not. Even if that means compromising ALL the supplies, animal life and living materials meant to establish the lives of 5,000 people you just saved, quite possibly dooming them anyway. Because. That. Is. ADORABLE.
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The issue here is that Passengers, in its current form, should be something much scarier – but studios, Tyldum, Spaihts, whoever – chose to highlight the soulmate aspect of said scenario. Love conquers all and shit. So then why have Jim open the pod bay? It’s that easy. Remove that one single decision and an entire cloud of doubt vanishes. You want Nicholas Sparks, you go all-in – but that’s not what happens here.
The minute Jim even STARTS thinking about waking Aurora up, tones shift towards something darker, more vile, more vicious in intentions (even IF other people would do the same). These are the same tones Tyldum ignores, instead opting for lavish nightgowns, kissy-kissy PG-13 hotness and a female character who’s never allowed to wear anything even SLIGHTLY “relaxed” (tight running clothes, lavish dresses, bikinis – Lawrence is a beautiful woman, but what about, like, ONE t-shirt?). Jim’s slate is wiped clean, totally forgiven by a victim (yes, a victim). Passengers tries to have its cake and eat it too – and ends up with a stomach ache.
The Starship Avalon is an impressive vessel, at least. Spaiths has some fun with push-button technology (Jim can only have the low-budget items, Lawrence gets gold premium breakfast service), and burning sun landscapes offer uncompromising wonder, but visuals only get so far given how the story distracts. There’s even a straight Guardians Of The Galaxy ripoff where, once again, Pratt is floating in space and must be rescued – this time by Lawrence (stop going into space, Chris!).
Pratt is more charismatic when by his lonesome (naked, disillusioned and stumbling through nonsense) than when Lawrence appears, as a lack of chemistry and enthusiasm drives home why this story took almost nine years to come together (seriously, Passengers has been in limbo THAT long). The sights are sleek, performances “fine” and storytelling abhorrent – have I stated that enough?
Do I think Passengers was created maliciously? Of course not. The concept, in theory, holds so much potential. Psychological torment akin to Moon, or like I said, something like Misery in space (Aurora is even a writer!! The connections write themselves!) – but that’s not this movie. Nowhere close. Anything unmentionable is swept under the rug by a buggy robot, and we’re just supposed to ignore the inherent horribleness under our noses because “LOOK! PRETTY PEOPLE IN SPACE!” There are two movies here, neither of which are given a chance to develop into something worthwhile. Saying anything more is wasted breath. Even with years of nurturing, Passengers is still a Titanic-sized disaster. Maybe some ideas are just better left on paper?
Passengers forces a thriller script to be a romantic high-note, like if Nicholas Sparks butchered an already-written script by Stephen King.