All I can say is that Passengers must have looked like a sure thing on paper. Jennifer Lawrence. Chris Pratt. The Oscar-winning badass from Silver Linings Playbook, Joy and The Hunger Games in the same movie with everyone’s favorite everyman from Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World? In space?! Hell, you didn’t even need a cool poster with this one. Just slap those pretty faces on a white backdrop and call it a day. Toss in the Norwegian dude who directed The Imitation Game, (Oscar nominee Morten Tyldum), that Mexican cinematographer (Rodrigo Prieto) with the two Oscar nods and one of the writers from Doctor Strange (Jon Spaihts) and you have yourself a readymade blockbuster. On paper.
On film, however, Passengers is a total hot mess. Slow, boring and deeply disturbing on far too many levels to count, Passengers would probably be a really bad movie even if Lawrence and Pratt weren’t in it. But the fact that they are and that they have virtually no chemistry to speak of – seriously, Lawrence and Pratt have like, Kate Winslet and Jack Black in The Holiday anti-chemistry – makes the whole thing that much more difficult to sit through. The best thing I can compare their total lack of chemistry to is like trying to light a fire with wet matches. No spark. No flame. Not even a whiff of smoke.
And then there’s the inexcusably tone-deaf plot. Passengers opens on the luxury starship Avalon which is transporting 5,000 hibernating passengers and crew members on a 120-year journey to an off-world colony called Homestead II. When a glitch in the ship’s programming accidentally awakens mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Pratt) 90 years too soon and he can’t go back to sleep, Jim must decide whether to live the rest of his years alone on the Avalon or wake up a beautiful young writer named Aurora Lane (Lawrence) that he spies in a neighboring hibernation pod. I hate to spoil the ending, but, as you can gather from the poster, Jim wakes Aurora up and we spend the rest of the movie watching two horribly miscast actors debating the morality of Jim’s indefensible decision as they hurtle through space on a lonely, but beautifully appointed, spaceship.
And though the Avalon really is beautifully appointed from top to bottom – especially the gilded barroom where Jim wiles away the hours with Michael Sheen’s creepy robot bartender – and garnered richly-deserved Oscar nominations earlier this year for production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas (Inception) and set decorator Gene Serdena (Her, Adaptation), beautiful sets cannot distract from the vile “forced seduction” narrative at the core of the film.
The moment Aurora forgives Jim for awakening her against her will – which essentially steals her life and dooms her to a fate similar to his own – the film stops becoming just another shitty sci-fi flick and becomes something much more troubling. Simply put, there is no defense for what Jim does to Aurora, and as hard as the filmmakers try to smooth over this fatal flaw in their space opera narrative, the suggestion that a women should forgive and grow to love the man who steals everything from her perpetuates age-old ‘victim falling for their rapist’ scenarios that have no place in a mainstream Hollywood film. Or any other film in 2017 for that matter.
Maybe someday Lawrence and Pratt will costar together in a film that is truly worthy of their talents, but until then, avoid these Passengers like the plague.
Now playing on select Air France, American Airlines, Swiss Air, and Singapore Airlines flights worldwide, Passengers is also available via streaming on Amazon Video, Google Play and iTunes.