Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen
Genre: Drama/ Romance
On a routine 120-year voyage to a new colony planet, two passengers aboard the star ship Avalon, Jim (Pratt) and Aurora (Lawrence) are awoken from suspended animation 90 years too early. Now the two of them, facing the rest of their lives alone on board the Avalon, must find a way to not only survive, but also discover why they woke up too soon, with the lives of 5000 sleeping passengers potentially in their hands.
The trajectory of Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s career has been textbook so far; low budget films in his own country, to a British drama with a moderate budget and cast list, and now to a big budget Hollywood blockbuster starring a couple of A-listers. Well, unfortunately the trajectory when it comes to the quality of these films is also depressingly textbook.
Tyldum has already proved to have a great visual eye; Headhunters was a visually slick and immensely enjoyable (albeit rather silly) film, but certainly showcased his talent as a director. Then came The Imitation Game (review); now my main criticism of this award nominated film was that it was actually too slick and competently made for its own good – something, which in my view, meant it was a good film, but never even threatened to be a great film. Now we have Passengers; once again it is a film made with total competence and certainly has some slick visuals and great set design, but that is pretty much it.
Perhaps it is unfair to focus on Tyldum, as he has done a solid job in terms of the visuals, but the script by Jon Spaihts is certainly somewhat lacking. Of course, despite the setting and initial narrative setup, anyone expecting this to be a cerebral sci-fi yarn in the vein of Arrival would be extremely naive, but a narrative with some emotional engagement and a greater sense of danger would have been nice. What we unfortunately get is a very dull, unengaging and unsatisfying viewing experience that feels like a Nicholas Sparks story set in space.
Now that many reviews have been written, it is probably common knowledge that the trailers are a little misleading in terms of the actual storyline. I will of course refrain from going into too much detail, but the story and characters that we do have are very difficult to engage with or care about. This is a real waste, as not only is Chris Pratt of course a very charismatic screen presence, but the storyline does offer the potential for some very relatable and emotive themes to be examined.
Spaihts’ script does a decent job with the exposition; it is explained briefly and succinctly, with us being told the few details we need to know mostly in the form of a hologram introducing Chris Pratt to the ship he has been sleeping on and where it is going. However, what then follows are many scenes that should then provide character development and enable us to really care about the two characters, but so many scenes instead just fill like empty filler and achieve very little.
Both Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence put in solid performances, and Pratt’s natural charisma and comic timing, as well as a decent on-screen chemistry between them, does at times elevate the very lacklustre script and make some scenes engaging and quite funny. Michael Sheen also provides excellent support as an android bartender, often bringing the laughs to a film often devoid of much warmth or humour. However, this is not enough, and so the rather dull first two thirds lead to an inevitable final third with more action being the focus.
In the final third the visuals are once again slick, but thanks to not only the fact it is difficult to truly care about the two protagonists, but also some genuinely jarring plot contrivances, it is a final third where there is no real true sense of danger. Of course, the stakes are supposedly very high within the context of the narrative but it is difficult to care about what happens, and thanks to the extremely frustrating plot contrivances (I will refrain from spoilers – but one in particular is outrageously convenient!) the supposed element of danger is taken away, and it all feels a bit too lazy, and therefore is quite infuriating to watch.
Passengers looks set to miss the mark in terms of box office takings, and this is very much deserved. Though the budget may have been used very well in terms of the visuals (and I am sure a couple of hefty actor salaries), Hollywood needs to learn that slick visuals cannot disguise a very lazy script.
Despite its initially promising premise; Passengers is visually slick, but also a predominantly dull and unsatisfying watch thanks to its painfully lazy script. What a waste.