Passangers is out, seems even in space it’s better to be single.
It might be easier to forgive the cursory plotting and the underdeveloped characters of this lightweight sci-fi if the whole story wasn’t predicated on a single act of staggering selfishness.
The two stars, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, are both intensely gifted and easy on the eyes, and the film takes off from a not-bad idea, but the setup is way better than the follow-through. The director, the Norwegian-born Morten Tyldum, made the accomplished WWII brainiac spy thriller “The Imitation Game” (2014), but he turns out to be the wrong filmmaker for an amorous space opera.
We’re on the Avalon, a corporate starship that’s shaped like a spidery double helix. The spacecraft, which is headed for a prefab interplanetary colony called Homestead II (in the future, it seems, off-world lands will become franchises for those tired of life on earth), is carrying 255 crew members and 5,000 volunteer passengers, all of whom are in a state of suspended animation and set to stay that way for 120 years. That’s how long the voyage will take.
But two of the passengers get woken up early: Jim Preston (Pratt), a mechanical engineer who’s jostled to consciousness in his hibernation pod after the ship hits a meteor, and Aurora Lane (Lawrence), a journalist whom Jim deliberately rouses from her slumber so that he’ll have someone to keep him company.
But things get worse – after briefly wrestling with his conscience, Jim wakes Aurora up. For the film-makers, it’s a minor obstacle on the route to romance; for the audience, it’s a deal-breaker. Regardless of what comes next – whatever redemptive heroics the screenplay constructs for Jim – he is still the perv who practically frotteured himself against a woman’s sleep pod before stealing her life to be his chosen playmate.
The couple’s divergent backgrounds make for early comedic fodder (her ‘Gold Class’ breakfast leaves him staring mournfully at a bowl of cosmic Weetabix), while Aurora’s introduction to the ship’s leisure facilities conjures images of Jack and Rose dancing in steerage. The Titanic parallels are felt throughout, sometimes in explicit nods (a giddy space walk stands in for ‘flying’ on the prow) and elsewhere in the films’ broader structure.
Much like Cameron’s nautical yarn, Passengers’ early love story gives way to a latter disaster flick: metaphorically as the couple’s relationship is riven by betrayal, then literally as the malfunctioning Avalon begins a spiral towards destruction. Overall, good, but not good enough to be worthwhile endeavour, though with the current buzz around Chris Pratt, it’ll still have a nice payday. Especially with the pretty good Zero G scenes (wink wink)
Having survived a trip almost as drawn-out and uncertain as the Avalon’s (Jon Spaihts’ screenplay appeared on The Black List back in 2007), Passengers is as surprisingly traditional as it is undeniably effective. A timeless romance wedded to a space-age survival thriller, it may be a curious coupling but Tyldum’s Turing follow-up is a journey well worth taking.