Let’s not beat around the bush here – something Morten Tyldum could do with taking note of – Passengers is a real let down. One-part Jennifer Lawrence, four-parts bland, clichéd, pedestrian disappointment. It’s genuinely gutting.
Here was a film brimming with potential as well. Insert two major stars, mix in a promising concept, add the man who made The Imitation Game and you should be on to a winner. Where did it all go wrong? Space-based cinema has had a mightily impressive past few years: Gravity won seven Oscars, The Martian was a joy and Arrival challengingly intellectual. In Passengers, Lawrence’s Aurora hits the problem best in a brutal assessment of the ‘five thousand suckers’ on board who she says have fallen for the adverts that promised everything but deliver empty. She’s talking about the passengers themselves aboard the Starship Avalon’s futuristic voyage to transport Earth-born ‘colonists’ (an intriguing term that goes entirely unaddressed) to new terra firma, Homestead II. It is, Aurora suggests, a heartless and commercial venture. Pot. Kettle. Black.
The most blatant of Passengers‘ deceptions comes by virtue of its promotion and marketing, which have widely implied that Aurora and Jim (Pratt) are both woken prematurely from their century-long slumber (Homestead II is 120 years away by posh shuttle bus) as a result of some strange and dramatic incident: ‘There’s a reason we woke up early’. What tactful marketeers conveniently failed to mention is that only Jim is woken up as such. It is in fact he, lovestruck from a voyeuristic Hitchcockian obsession, who a year on decides to wake Aurora from her slumber – the Sleeping Beauty nod is neither subtle nor welcome – to uitilise her as particularly attractive company. ‘She is wonderful, excellent choice’ purrs Michael Sheen’s bar-tending android, Arthur. In doing so, Jim rouses her 89 years ahead of schedule and condemns her to a lonely and isolated death in the middle of space. It’s not just creepy, it’s disturbing and Passengers never fully justifies the action through its repercussions.
It doesn’t help that Pratt and Lawrence are given a script offering precious little to help build any form of investable relationship. Off-screen the pair display a dynamic twosome but it’s one left in hibernation on this cruise. Pratt delivers his clunky lines (see: ‘I have to do this’) with a minute emotional range and after a year of total isolation manages only to portray the mild distress of a bad hangover. Lawrence does better but even she can’t work miracles. Here is an Academy Award winning actress reduced to an eye-candy role, crawling on tables, climbing into a spacesuit wearing next-to-nothing and removing her top in the climax for sheer gratuity. A pointless dance-off mid way through reminds sadly of more worthy showcases for Lawrence in American Hustle and Silver Lining’s Playbook. It’s a credit to the actress’ stellar talent that she is still able to build a living, breathing character with genuine responses. Against all odds.
Okay, it’s not a total disaster. With a budget of over $100 million there are some absolutely terrific effects. The Avalon’s interior is forgettably vanilla but the ship has a neatly designed outer shell to make up for it. A sequence involving zero-gravity and a swimming pool makes for a visual treat, whilst there’s a lovely shot towards the end that lingers sweetly in the memory. There are some decent action sequences too when the film finally – and I do mean finally – gets going. The problem is that you’re so fed up by this point that the lethargy’s beyond total recall. Lawrence Fishburne’s given a thankless task as ‘guy-who-turns-up-to-move-plot-forward’. Sheen’s an amiable companion but gives a performance hinting as so much more than the script provides him. When we reach Arthur’s head banging shot from the trailer it’s hard not to conclude: you and me both pal.
Everyone behind this is evidentially capable of more and that makes this all the more a real shame. Essentially Passengers sees Pratt and Lawrence spend over two years trying to go back into hibernation; if they’d just watched the film itself on waking they’d have got there in under two hours. 2016: A Dead-Space Odyssey. Should’ve been, could’ve been, would’ve been…wasn’t.