Movie Review: Passengers
Good science fiction is supposed to do two things: say something about the time we live in raise questions. On that front Norwegian director Morten Tyldum does an adequate job in his latest project, Passengers. I can’t help but admit to having my interests piqued at the social quandaries presented in this film, like income inequality still being a thing, how with near total automation one fights the existential ennui of a life of seven or eight decades (on average) devoid of meaningful work and why, when presented with a second chance (in the form of a new planet), we seek to make the same mistakes?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. If I had to summarize the film it would be something along the lines of “Stockholm Syndrome Aboard the Space Ship Poseidon/Titanic” (pick your preference of cruise ship disaster films). Chris Pratt plays a folksy mechanic from Colorado named Jim Preston, but frankly it doesn’t matter what the character is called; it’s Chris Pratt. If you like Chris Pratt then you’ll like his performance (with not one, but two bare ass shots). If not, well, there are other things that make this movie worth watching. Jennifer Lawrence plays Jim’s wealthy, educated, writer love interest, whose performance transcends the cliche romcom aspect of the partnering. The two are both passengers on the colony ship Avalon on a voyage to make new lives for themselves on Homestead II. But early on in the film events transpire to enable a Chekhov’s glitch that awakens the two would-be-disrupters of an unsuspecting planet’s natural habitat–90 years too soon.
Technically speaking, there is quite a bit of Passengers that makes the film worth the price of admission. In a science fiction film landscape overpopulated with near-future dystopias, its refreshing to see something far removed from our day-to-day existence. I would be content with this film getting award for best set design, as the smooth, clean yet curvy lines of Avalon are aesthetically pleasing and sexy. What this film lacks is all in the acting. Chris Pratt is little more than goofy, emotionally over-wrought eye candy. Jennifer Lawrence’s acting transcends Pratt’s, but but doesn’t overcome it. Laurence Fishburne and deus ex machina make an appearances. An honorable mention goes to actor Michael Sheen, who plays a robotic bartender named Arthur. His performance pays homage and harkens back to the days of the screw-ball romantic comedy.
It has great visuals, it does what science fiction is supposed to do, and you have a solid performance from Jennifer Lawrence. Sadly, the casting of Chris Pratt and more than a few plot holes prevent this from being a wholly satisfying intellectual experience. But it is still worth a watch, and even worth paying the exorbitant price of a theater seat, as the visuals are pure sci-fi nerd candy.