An exellent sci-fi drama is undermined by its’ own dubious sexual politics, an unecessary thriller-disaster movie twist and the box-office prerogative of leering at leading lady Jennifer Lawrence.
Thirty years into a hundred and twenty year interstellar journey, everyman Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) awakes from hibernation to find himself the only one of five thousand passengers awake on a vast colony ship. Unable to re-enter hibernation, he becomes Robinson Crusoe, a lone, lost soul surrounded by humanity but condemned to die alone – with only the company of a robot bar tender.
Until he commits the selfish act of waking a female passenger Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), condemning her to the same fate; stealing a life equates to murder. The initial romance turns sour when she finds out. But all that goes on hold when the colony ship starts to break down. Like they do…
As the ordinary Joe, Pratt (Guardians, Jurassic World) tries to be endearing as the puppy-eyed, ‘why me?’, engineer-without-a-cause, who all too easily gives in to the moral howler of waking an unwilling Eve to his Adam. The movie lets him off far too lightly and expects us to do the same, as if easy-charm and a late heroic sacrifice is all he needs.
Which is an issue for Lawrence’s character, a briliant writer (of course) who also lets him off the hook – OK, that’s a slight spoiler but it’s a sci-fi drama-adventure-romance with only two principals, you were expecting…? As Aurora – sorry, temporarily deafened by the thudding space-cliche – Lawrence (Hunger Games, X-Men) makes the best of this idealised male fantasy figure. As one of the most engaging actresses currently working, she commits her full range to the role, choosing to ignore that she’s being used as a sex object to be leered at by director Morten Tyldum’s (Imitation Game) camera. Past roles suggest she doesn’t mind being leered at; does that make it okay? I’m easily confused by sexual politics these days.
Where life-drifter Preston boarded the colony ship for vague notions of being a frontiersman, Aurora’s on a high-minded mission to become the great writer with a unique story – to the stars and back again, a leap of faith two hundred and forty hears into the future. There’s so many pitfalls likely to derail this single-minded and selfish quest, I can’t decide if it’s visionary or delusional.
To be fair to writer Jon Spaihts (Prometheus), there’s enough layers in acts one and two to make a decent drama, if only it would play out as a two hander and resolve the relationship truthfully. But act three surrenders to Starship Titanic sci-fi adventure guff and we’re closer to Lost in Space than Arthur Miller.
You can pick entire black holes in the technology and set-up of a colony ship bent out of shape to service a string of creaky plot devices, crow-barred in to provide escapism or peril. Part-ark, part-cruise liner, the sets and visual effects are well done, including dramatic set-pieces of space walks and when the artificial gravity breaks down (note to self, never build a swimming pool on a space ship). Try to avoid laughing at the reactor core that’s powering a thousand-metre leviathan at one-half light-speed.
Michael Sheen’s (Frost/Nixon) entertaining cameo brings creepy menace to the robot bar-keep, present only as a sounding board for Lawrence and Pratt so they can unload without talking to themselves. Lawrence Fishbourne briefly cameo’s as the ships’ engineer to provide some Basil Exposition for act three. In both cases, it shows a lack of belief in the movie’s ability to keep us engaged through the two leads.
If not for the charisma of these two bankable stars, Passengers would collapse under it’s own pretensions; entertaining while it’s playing, Passengers is drama-lite, a middle-course souffle mixed from Twilight Zone and Outer Limits ingredients that leaves you wondering when the entrée is going to be served. RC
Director: Morten Tyldum
Writer: Jon Spaihts
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Science Fiction, Fantasy
Running time: 116 minutes
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Lawrence Fishbourne