Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure and Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.
Release Date: December 21st, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Morten Tyldum Actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia, Julee Cerda, Kara Flowers
he starship Avalon carries more than 5,000 people on its century-long flight to reach the colony world of Homestead II, where its travelers will start a new life. But when an asteroid field hits the spaceship and causes failures in the hibernation pods, a series of unexpected events finds mechanic Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) awakened 90 years too soon. As vital substructures begin to falter across the Avalon, and the two lone voyagers work together to repair the damage, a dark secret threatens to destroy the bond forming between them.
The immediate images of a propulsion system, a shield array, and interior spaceship designs are altogether fascinating. This vision of futuristic deep space voyage, complete with hibernation pods, an encyclopedic observatory, and a 120-year suspended-animation stint looks like a live-action version of “WALL·E.” But the entertaining visuals are quickly superseded by Pratt’s premature emergence, designating a silly, fun-loving, comical character that very much resembles every previous role Pratt has undertaken. Range isn’t one of his strong points. This is effective initially, however, as glib and unintentionally sarcastic computer voices or androids provide lighthearted alleviations from his dire isolation.
The last-man-on-earth concept isn’t exactly new, but adapting it into a far-flung intergalactic environment provides oodles of potential. It’s a stunning setting for a horror film; there’s even an early scene in which Preston tries to reinsert himself into his pod, only to get stuck while still conscious – an idea utterly terrifying, even for those indifferent about claustrophobic predicaments. But the moment is played for laughs instead, transitioning to the next phase of the film, which is so drastically different that it feels like a separate project entirely. Even though humor alternates with his desperation, then depression, then thoughts of suicide, the morality tale at the start (a “what would you do?” scenario) is ripped from the narrative to focus instead on a plain romantic comedy. “Jim, these are not robot questions.”
It’s difficult to miss the reference to “Sleeping Beauty” with Aurora’s name, or the giddy montage of falling in love, which goes so far as to include candle-lit dinners and spontaneous sex at the breakfast table. But this is where it all goes so wrong; the secrets and lies at the heart of the leading couple’s union are so heavy and grim that they cast a numbing pall over any sincerity about their future. It’s a damnable foundation for an affair – one that looms over contentment and can’t be resolved with the easy romantic-comedy formulas that brush things off with a smile and a chuckle.
There’s a third movie lurking in here, too, as the final part finds additional conflicts to influence acts of heroism and redemption and a space tether that is ludicrously inadequate by a mere foot or two. It’s action-packed and suspenseful, but arranged in the most dreadfully uninspired ways; when lines of dialogue have to unconvincingly dash aside simple solutions, the more complex resolutions grow needlessly overdramatic. Several potent themes turn up, such as the sci-fi-oriented time constraints of sending messages when reception is decades away, or the manners in which fear can disguise itself as every other emotion, or the multigenerational length of a single voyage to a secondary Earth. But for every amusing notion, a few really bad ones follow. Mortality statistics and money don’t seem to align themselves with this advanced period of space travel (apparently, thousands of years into the future, humans are only able to live to the age of 100 or so), while artificial gravity and atmospheric failures refuse to remain consistent in their rules. But “Passengers” hopes that no one will pay too much attention to the technological discrepancies as the romance pushes itself to the forefront. Unfortunately, it’s the science-fiction that remains more thought-provoking and moving.
– The Massie Twins