Jennifer Lawrence. Chris Pratt. Together. In space.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing what Passengers is about, regardless of whether you’ve watched the trailers. While the above few details would normally be enough to sell a flick (with the early synopses offering a pretty straightforward account of the film and it’s riveting central dilemma), a lot of folks exposed to very different promos were nevertheless taken aback at the actual nature of Passengers’ events.
Not close to the film’s biggest issues, Passengers’ central premise (the less disclosed of which, the better), if inspired, is sorely lacking in execution. Having woken up 90 years early from a period of stasis, Pratt’s intrepid traveller, surrounded by five thousand sleeping star trekkers, faces an unenviable and horrifying choice.
The consequences of his decision and subsequent actions, inextricable, along with the film itself, from some of the most compelling ideas and challenges presented by the best of science fiction, hastily make way in the film’s later stages for very by-the-book space drama that necessitates Passengers’ loose strands, complex notions and hugely consequential character development being neglectfully shelved in favour of Pratt going full action-mode.
An earlier sequence with Pratt’s voice booming across the ship’s intercom as he addresses Lawrence or his consoling with his only friend, an android bartender (full time activist Michael Sheen), offer a glimpse at what Passengers could have been if Headhunters Director Martin Tyldum had focused on the film’s intriguing concepts rather than reverting to stock-standard action schlock. When Passengers does delve into the film’s more interesting implications, Lawrence at least has the acting range to carry it off and bring the whole space saga, forgive me, down to earth. Pratt, in comparison, if charming and fun as the film’s central figure with a heft more screen time than Lawrence, cannot herald a fraction of the intensity which she brings to her best scenes.
The situation is not helped by a notably novel premise being overloaded with scenes straight out of WALL-E and Pratt’s own Guardians of the Galaxy. The all-purpose ex machina medi-capsule from Prometheus (penned by Passengers‘ same screenwriter) similarly plays a pivotal role in this most recent space adventure, which neglects to address how, inexplicably, there’s only one such device on a spaceship ferrying several thousand people who’ve all dropped a great deal of cash to be there.
Speaking of, Pratt’s character, relegated to the ship’s third class, has to contend with the bevy of benefits only available to him through Lawrence’s first class writer; only one of the many fascinating themes and story strands (none more so than that revealed in the film’s final sequence) hinted at but regretfully sidelined.
As fascinating as it is fundamentally flawed, if you’re looking for something more here than fairly recognisable interstellar action, don’t look too deep.
Passengers is in cinemas now