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It was T.S. Elliot who so famously said that the journey is always more important – more defining, more character-building – than the eventual destination, but it seems some critics have found both problematic when assessing Passengers, Morten Tyldum’s big-budget sci-fi romance headed up by Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.
Already screening overseas, the movie is now only a few days away from its theatrical release here in North America (December 21), and now that Sony has officially lifted the embargo, the first wave of reviews have found their way online and it’s fair to say that, at least among critics, Passengers has proven more divisive than first anticipated.
Featuring a reworked Black List script from Jon Spaihts, the story follows Pratt and Lawrence’s intergalactic voyagers, as they’re crudely awoken ahead of schedule in the midst of their 120-year journey to a neighbouring star system. A romance blossoms, but it’s really that core hook – why did they wake up in the first place? – that anchors this space opus.
Here’s a sampling of the early reviews, and remember, WGTC’s official verdict will be live in the coming days.
The Hollywood Reporter, Sheri Linden:
There is, at first, a thrilling what-if in Jon Spaihts’ screenplay, which concocts a sort of Titanic in outer space, with dollops of “Sleeping Beauty” and Gravity thrown into the high-concept mix. Under less shiny, by-the-numbers direction, the story might have soared, or at least been more stirring. Yet while Passengers offers a few shrewd observations about our increasingly tech-enabled, corporatized lives, its heavy-handed mix of life-or-death exigencies and feel-good bromides finally feels like a case of more being less. Whatever the critical consensus, though, the marquee leads are sure to entice moviegoers seeking grown-up action-adventure.
Time Out, Tom Huddleston:
This interstellar sci-fi misfire dreams up one of the most intriguing ‘what would you do?’ scenarios in recent movie memory – and takes it precisely nowhere. But for the most part ‘Passengers’ is so anodyne, so frightened of the ethically troubling opportunities inherent in the setup that it just ends up feeling forgettable and silly. Made with half the budget by a filmmaking team wiling to take a few risks, this could have been sharp, sadistic and special. As it is, you’ll be longing for a nice nap yourself by the end.
Empire, James Dyer:
Unorthodox the setting might be, but the blossoming romance is entirely familiar — from bantering over lunch to sharing a box of popcorn at the cinema. It just happens to play out within the glossy white halls of a starship resembling an Apple-sponsored shopping mall. Pratt and Lawrence are magnetic as the literal star-crossed lovers, convincingly seduced by each other over the passage of time; an awkward, space-suit-bumping kiss giving way to a passionate, Cheerios-all-over-the-floor breakfast shag.
Variety, Owen Gleiberman:
There’s only one place for “Passengers” to go, and once it gets there, Jon Spaihts’s script runs out of gas. Tyldun handles the dialogue almost as if he were doing a stage play, but he turns out to be a blah director of spectacle; he doesn’t make it dramatic. There’s not much to “Passengers” besides its one thin situation, and there are moments when the film could almost be “a very special episode of ‘Star Trek,’” because Pratt, with his golden-boy smirk, has a Kirkian side, and the voyage they’re on is grandiose yet amorphous (like the Enterprise’s). The ship itself has a variety of chambers and communal spaces, but it all seems overly familiar and sterile. What’s lackluster about “Passengers” isn’t just that the movie is short on surprise, but that it’s like a castaway love story set in the world’s largest, emptiest shopping mall in space.
The Guardian, Andrew Pulver:
Passengers’ preoccupation with its romcom chops means that, despite all the fancy electronics and stark minimalist design, actual peril is in short supply. Even the showpiece scene where Lawrence is engulfed by swimming-pool water after the shipboard gravity fails is a nicely realised idea, but never remotely is [her] emergence from the water, hair slightly ruffled, ever in doubt.
Come December 21, Passengers will dock in theaters for those in North America. Expect our official verdict to hit the site shortly.