Passengers (2016) – Film Review
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen
by Roger Crow
The hook of romantic sci-fi drama Passengers is a moral dilemma many can relate to. Imagine you’re the only person on a starship and are destined to die alone. Do you wake up one of 7,000-plus human cargo, knowing you are sentencing them to death?
That’s the bit the adverts gloss over, instead choosing to centre on the natural chemistry between stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. He’s James Preston, the blue collar tech guy who awakens from hyper sleep on Avalon, a starship ferrying 5,000 passengers and 2,000 plus crew from Earth to an idyllic planet. It’s a 120-year journey and thanks to a meteor strike, the sleek ship is damaged 30-years into its trip. With 90-years left to go, Preston can’t return to sleep, and has only Arthur (Michael Sheen), a robot bartender for company.
Like sitcom The Last Man on Earth, Preston grows a big bushy beard and samples the best facilities before loneliness and desperation get the better of him. He happens upon Aurora Lane (Lawrence), a beautiful blonde writer who’s a higher passenger grade than him and looks like a dream companion.
So he defrosts her. They fall in love and the rest is as formulaic as you can imagine. A bombshell is dropped; a disaster occurs; burnt bridges are rebuilt and the third act is edge-of-the-seat peril reminiscent of finales in Gravity and 2010.
Pratt and Lawrence are a dream team. He’s as likeable as ever (less of a one-note character than in Jurassic World thankfully). She’s sexy, smart, fun and still the most compelling actress of her generation. Few thesps react to shock more naturally, or manage to ground the most lightweight fantasy with greater skill.
The movie is stunningly designed, though the sets look like the Halo or Mass Effect videogames; all pristine, multi-level vistas with Red Dwarf-style cleaning droids attending to the humans’ dropped cereal and debris. Yes, we’ve seen it all before, though the zero gravity bubble of water that threatens to drown Aurora is a fresh touch.
There is a creepiness to half the film that is difficult to avoid. While Preston’s decision to wake Aurora is tantamount to signing a death sentence, inevitably there’s a chance to redeem himself. In short it’s a classic ’boy meets girl; boy loses girl, boy attempts to save girl’ scenario.
When Laurence Fishburne turns up half way through, alarm bells start ringing. Echoes of Event Horizon and Predators remind me that ‘Fishburne plus spaceships equals disaster’. And the fact Andy Garcia gets a major screen credit after around five seconds of screen time is remarkably generous of the producers.
Passengers isn’t a perfect movie by any means. It does remind me of many better films, including the aforementioned Gravity, but as I follow it with the stunningly tedious, overblown fantasy epic Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the perfect cure for insomnia), director Morten Tyldum’s movie proves that sometimes less is more.