An interesting narrative — strained by Titanic problems.
On route to the planet Homestead II to begin a new life, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) awakens on board the Starliner Avalon… ninety years too early. The generation ship isn’t equipped to automatically put him back into suspended animation to complete the journey; while he has no access to the ship’s crew, he does have access to the ship’s stores and cargo… as well as five thousand other sleeping passengers. One catches his eye: Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) — and it doesn’t take him long to figure out how he can awaken her. With only an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen) as a companion, Jim wrestles with his dilemma: spend the rest of his life alone, end his life entirely, or condemn a beautiful stranger to his own fate.
Whispers of this holiday release have been building for a while: current “it” guy Chris Pratt teamed with current “it” gal Jennifer Lawrence in an outer space Adam and Eve situation built on lies and deception — “Seriously… God made you for me. Can’t we just move on?” Fans of science fiction and similar kinds of stories will immediately begin reasoning out solutions to the problem, most of which are not only addressed but shown to fail, keeping our heroes in their box for dramatic effect for as long as possible. Does the final cut resolve this issue dramatically, opt out for the big Hollywood finish, or end in a way somewhere in between?
The casting is near perfect: lovable, adorable Pratt paired with beautiful, approachable Lawrence — we’ll suspend disbelief for the eleven-year age difference, as we always have to do in these coupling films. It isn’t hard to figure out what happens or what’s going to happen — limited possibilities and so forth — but what begins as an interesting and all-too human dilemma gets hijacked by technology. The setup is classic: put your characters in a box, shake well, and open to see what’s left afterward, but in this particular case, the adventurous external threats take over the personal narrative until neither feels entirely satisfying. At one point or another, you can’t help but think, “Oh, come on!” but it’s easy to see how this film’s conclusion was planned from the beginning, not just as an afterthought.
The Starliner Avalon may look like Wall-E‘s space cruiser Axiom, but it quickly devolves into the Titanic. Phrases like “It’s impossible for that to fail” and systems that are whatever-proof pop up every five to ten minutes, more so in the concluding act. Sure, we get why the characters keep pushing forward, but the limitations seem ridiculous on top of ridiculous. Five thousand people plus almost three hundred crew will be awake for four months prior to planet-fall, but there’s only one solitary medical facility with a single diagnostics system? What happened to “spare parts for everything are on board”? Who builds an open-air engineering section that maintains a full recycled oxygen atmosphere while normally unoccupied? You can hack into a premiere state-room and override the restaurant robots to bring you shrimp cocktails and sushi but not reprogram the breakfast bar to spit out anything other than Frosted Mini-Wheats and black coffee? Never mind the Olympic-sized swimming pool or passenger-authorized unsupervised space walks as entertainment. Even in the name of humor, too many things seem incidentally random until they become story-altering details. Add in the bare minimum drama of the original premise with a rushed sixty-second narrated denouement and viewers can’t help feel like they’ve been shortchanged at the box office.
The cast is good and the effects are incredible — the design of the Avalon is brilliant — but the story feels forced and you can almost see the bullet-pointed outline on the screen as you watch. If you’re not particular about the intimate details and want to see good-looking people overcoming danger in good-looking locations, you’ll enjoy this film just fine, but if you were looking for hard science fiction and a heavier drama, you’ll feel a bit disappointed.
Passengers is rated PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and action/peril, because even in the future nothing works.
2 Skull Recommendation Out of Four