Earth of the future has become overcrowded. For the lucky few, the passengers of the title, there is an alternative: Homestead II, a newly inhabited, lusciously spacious planet. Which is where Jim (Chris Pratt) and Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) are headed, hurtling through space in hibernation on a 120 year journey aboard the Avalon.
What would have been a peaceful extended nap is interrupted by a rogue meteor strike, damaging the ship only thirty years into its travels, causing a fault in just one the thousands of hibernation pods on board. That belonging to engineer Jim Preston, who’s awoken a lifetime ahead of schedule. Alone in the middle of space, he faces the trickiest of dilemmas – does he live out his days in solitude, doomed to die before the starship reaches its destination? Or does he wake up the beautiful stranger whose pod he stumbles upon in a dark moment? It’s one of many moral questions posed by Passengers, and comfortably its most interesting too. It’s central to us understanding who Jim is, and what he’s capable of at his most desperate.
Key to this is Chris Pratt, showing more range here than perhaps ever previously. We get the standard, goofy Pratt we’ve all come to love. But he also shows a great deal of heart. It’s no coincidence that the opening third, with him individually exploring Avalon’s intricate, excellently designed looping corridors, is the most engaging. From the moment Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora enters however, the tonal inconsistencies begin to creep in, and it moves into romantic comedy territory, before finally settling as a straight up disaster movie.
Pratt and Lawrence unsurprisingly have chemistry aplenty though, so even as it does shift away from the more considered tone and pacing of the opening half hour, it still ticks along pleasantly enough with smatterings of humour and charm in the second act (still, I could have done without the forced “sexiness”). In the home stretch however, it starts to unravel. The introduction of Laurence Fishburne’s exposition spewer Chief Gus Mancuso is a distraction, and a lack of earlier groundwork in developing the increasing fragility of the ship’s structure leaves the film scrambling at the close.
Putting it bluntly, the final thirty minutes just don’t do it for me. Not only due to the growing predictability. But also because it doesn’t really work narratively. At least not very satisfactorily. Jim, who makes the most selfish of decisions in waking Aurora in the first place, gets to have his cake and eat it. It simply doesn’t seem like any sort of redemptive arc for him at all.
Passengers is undoubtedly flawed, but it also has more merits than most have been offering it. Buckle up for a firmly middle of the road adventure ride.
Rating (out of 5):