Review: ‘Passengers’ (last starliner to Clarksville)

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


  1. Let’s play a little “what if.” How would I have fixed this ending? Try this on for size…


    After saving Jim and learning the autodoc can put a single person back into suspended animation, Aurora lures him back to his room and slips a few of the unused heavy painkillers meant for the doomed crewman into Jim’s drink. While he’s out, Aurora uses the crewman’s access bracelet and override code to confine Jim to only a few rooms, ensuring he can live out the rest of his life in comfort but never awaken anyone else — including her while she’s in suspension again. Jim wakes up and quickly realizes he’s trapped. He finds a video message waiting from Aurora:

    Jim. On behalf of the entire ship, thank you for saving me and everyone on board the Avalon. Your offer to let me use the autodoc was generous, but it’s clear I can’t trust you not to awaken me again — or any of the other passangers or crew. I have restricted you to an area to tend to your needs, but the rest of us must continue our journey without you. I am truly sorry this is how it had to happen and I will always remember you. Aurora.

    Understandably heartbroken, Jim is resigned to his fate.

    * * *



  2. What a dumb review. “Nothing in the future works”. I fully believe you didn’t finish the movie because it was much more than the ship not working anymore. I don’t care if you like the movie or not, but try not to be such a f***ing idiot and make things up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Even in the future nothing works” is a reference to the Mel Brooks classic spoof Spaceballs, which clearly you lack. I fully believe you didn’t finish the review, dear mortal… and certainly didn’t read the first comments, because it was about much more than pointing out the ridiculousness of a wasteful smimming pool on a generation ship.

      What is NOT in review is that Pratt’s character is a dick who shouldn’t be rewarded for choosing his pick of the other passengers and condemning them to his fate so he wouldn’t have to die alone. Had you read the comments, you would have seen I could have fixed this problem at the script phase and made the film work… unless you think it’s okay to screw over a beautiful stranger because you’re the most important person in the universe.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


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