Passengers is an adequate but unspectacular journey through Space – spoiler review

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Take a tried and true science fiction premise, add two of the most luminous and bankable stars in Hollywood, and you should have everything you need for a bona fide blockbuster. And although Passengers has all the ingredients that should make it a huge success, the end result is a remarkably pedestrian film that only briefly touches on some deeper sci-fi themes, but is ultimately saved only by the absolutely magnetic charm of its two leads.

Passengers takes place in an unknown near future where humanity has begun colonizing other planets with long range colony ships. The latest such ship is the Avalon, which houses 200+ crew and 5,000 civilians, all held in stasis until their arrival on the new homeworld. The ship is 30 years into its 120-year journey to the planet of Homestead II when it is struck by a meteor which creates a series of malfunctions, chief among them, the early awakening of engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). He spends the next year searching for a way to reactivate his stasis pod while trying to keep himself from going insane from loneliness. His only companion during this year of solitude is an android bartender, Arthur (a wonderful Michael Sheen), who tends bar, serves up drinks and offers a multitude of pithy platitudes to help ease Preston’s isolation.

The first third of the film revolves around Preston learning the ins and outs of the ship and growing an impressive beard, Cast Away style. This solitary character story arc could have sunk the movie entirely if not for the magnetic charm of Pratt, who, though no Tom Hanks, manages to keep the audience engaged with his antics throughout his early quest to find a solution to his predicament. But just as Preston is about to give up entirely, he happens upon the pod of Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a writer who wants to be the first person to travel to a colony and back to Earth, writing about her experiences along the way. Preston battles with the decision to doom another person to a lifetime aboard a spaceship against his own overwhelming loneliness, and ultimately decides to wake her up.

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Of course, being the only two passengers aboard a ship that is 90 years away from its destination is bound to create an emotional connection between the two (and it certainly doesn’t hurt when the two passengers look like Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence). But their growing connection leads to the ultimate quandary of whether Jim’s egregious actions in awakening Aurora (and effectively deciding her fate) are somehow justified. It these sorts of moral dilemmas that Passengers begins to explore, only to instead shift gears towards a more traditional science fiction third act.

Passengers certainly suffers from a lack of depth, bringing to light these weighty questions that come with intergenerational space travel, and then turning the film into what is ostensibly a pretty basic romantic drama. But if we look past these issues and instead focus on the romance, well, you could do far worse than casting Lawrence and Pratt as the two leads. Pratt perfects the everyman likeability that he’s brought to the table in his recent films, while Lawrence is absolutely captivating in nearly every scene, showing a depth and range of emotions in this film that is almost out of place, given the weightlessness of the proceedings. The pair have an electric chemistry that reminds us why this film was likely green lit in the first place.

There is a kernel of a great movie in Passengers, and there is the right cast to tell the story. But ultimately, the film ends up taking a pass on the truly interesting questions, and gives us a film that is a reasonably pleasant diversion into space, but not much else.

Rating: 3 out of 5 atoms
NR 3 Atoms - C

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Brian Chu
Brian Chu 221 posts

Brian Chu is a Staff Writer for Nerd Reactor and aspiring Jeopardy contestant. He thinks Picard is the best captain, Cumberbatch is the best Holmes, Bale is the best Batman, and Tennant is the best Doctor. Follow him @chumeister