My Rating: 6.5 out of 10
When I first saw the trailer for Passengers, I couldn’t wait for it to come out! The idea of a sci-fi/thriller/mystery/romance starring two of my favorite actors (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) as the leads sounded like it could easily become one of my favorite films. When the film finally came out, most of my friends thought it looked like it would be too cheesy and wouldn’t have a good story, so I ended up seeing it alone. For the first two-thirds of its runtime, Passengers delivered exactly what I hoped it would when I first saw that preview. However, during the final act, the movie became predictable and unrealistic.
Without giving anything crucial away, Passengers takes place on a massive starship called the Avalon that is traveling to a far off planet which will be colonized by the people onboard. The journey will take 120 years. Unfortunately, a rare malfunction during the first 30 years of the journey causes Jim Preston’s hibernation pod to wake him up 90 years too early. Unable to figure out how to go back to sleep or how to wake up any of the crew members, Jim (played by Chris Pratt) beings to go insane from the loneliness. That is, until he is joined by Aurora Lane (played by Jennifer Lawrence) and the two begin to fall in love. However, parts of the ship continue to malfunction, Jim and Aurora must figure out exactly what is going on before it’s too late.
The premise for this film was incredible and for the first two-thirds of the runtime, it was well executed. Unfortunately, the end section was completely disjointed both in terms of realism and tone. Passengers went from being an extremely thoughtful piece of art to an over the top Hollywood film. In this respect, it reminded me of 10 Cloverfield Lane, which had a similar problem of going completely off the reservation at the very end. However, the different between the two films is that 10 Cloverfield Lane tacked on its absurd scene after the actual arc of the story had already completely, whereas Passengers veered off into the absurd before completing what it had started.
My biggest issue with the film is that it had so much potential to be amazing (easily a 9/10), but squandered its well constructed premise in the final act. There were many paths that the film could have taken to explore the ideas it put forward, but the one that the filmmakers chose in the end was not the best option. With all this said, Passengers was still a lot of fun to watch and had plenty of great qualities. There were elements that were predictable (even before the ending), but there were also lots of surprises and visceral emotion. The filmmakers and actors did a great job of getting you inside the heads of the characters, which could sometimes be difficult to watch due to the intensity of the story.
The Avalon was awesome and really well thought out. I would love to be able to go for a trip on that starship and explore all the different parts (provided that the joinery wouldn’t take 120 years). I was impressed by how much the filmmakers fleshed out the technical elements of the ship. From the malfunctioning hibernation pods to the android bartender to the unhelpful digital assistant screens throughout the ship, nearly all the elements of the Avalon were as well thought out as the fantastical worlds of Harry Potter or Star Wars. Without spoiling anything, I have to mention that the medical pod was nearly identical to the one from Prometheus and Elysium.
In terms of the acting, I thought that Pratt and Lawrence did an excellent job. For two popular actors that frequently play certain types of characters, I was surprised at how well the two of them became Aurora and Jim. It must be especially hard to put on such a good performance in a film where there are literally only two main characters and two important side characters since so much of the focus is concentrated on those few actors. Chris Pratt’s scenes at the beginning, when he was all alone on the ship, are some of the most powerful in the movie and reminded me of Matt Damon’s scenes from The Martian. One of Jennifer Lawrence’s strongest moments was when she had an important realization and was horrified by it. It was one of the strongest scenes in the entire film because you could literally feel the intensity of the emotion. She really did phenomenal. Michael Sheen was also great as the android bartender.
My only complaint with the casting is that Chris and Jen might have been too positive for their roles. This is partially because most people know them both as overall cheerful people from interviews and television appearances, but also because their characters were somewhat written that way. Like with the ending of the film, the casting made me think about the other possibilities that could have been opened up with the story if the filmmakers had gone with other actors to make the movie creepier. It would have also been interesting to see the genders reversed. Or even to have explored a story where the two people stuck on the ship were both so different that they would have a lot of trouble getting along.
So to fully explore the main issues I had with Passengers, I need to talk about the (kind of) surprise that Jim is the one who wakes up Aurora after becoming suicidally depressed from his isolation on the Avalon. I was less shocked that this happened than I was about when it happened and how it was handled during the remainder of the movie. When I first saw the preview, there was a line that Jim says to Aurora about “the real reason” they woke up. This line was not actually in the finished film, but it made me think that the twist at the end of the movie was going to be that Aurora and the audience find out that Jim had been behind Aurora waking up. It would have made for an interesting surprise and made the film much creepier on rewatch. Another hypothesis I had was that Aurora was really a figment of Jim’s imagination that he creates to cope with his loneliness.
Instead, the film openly shows Jim considering whether or not to wake her up, which he does. I liked this a lot since it prevented the preview from spoiling the ending and opened up some very deep and interesting ethical questions regarding Jim’s decision to wake up Aurora and (more or less) end her life. Unfortunately, once Gus wakes up, the film veered in a different direction and spent the final act trying to justify Jim’s actions. Instead of forcing Jim and Aurora to come to terms with what happened in an interesting way and figure out how to live with one another alone in space, the failing reactor forces them to work together and gives Jim an excuse for waking Aurora up. Had he never woken up in the first place, everyone on the ship would have died. In addition, had he not woken up Aurora, there would not have been two people to fix the reactor and save the other passengers.
Personally, I would have preferred that the filmmakers used the premise to explore the ethical dilemma of Jim waking up Aurora and her needing to find a way to forgive him and build some sort of relationship with him despite the terrible thing he did to her. However, if the writers wanted to take Passengers in an action direction for the final act, they should have had Jim die to save Aurora and the rest of the people onboard during the scene where he vents the reactor. Not only was that scene extremely unrealistic due to the fact that the heat from a fusion reactor would have been nearly as hot as the sun and incinerated Jim, but the way everything got tied up in a neat bow took away the tension and urgency that was present throughout the rest of the film. Aurora being left on her own after Jim’s death before being able to forgive him could have explored the ethical issues in a deeper way while still having a flashy and romantic ending.
Since Aurora chose to stay in the end and the failing reactor gave Jim an out, if you really think about what he did to her and what choice he gave her, there is no way to be left with a completely positive feeling after seeing the film. While Jim’s actions are somewhat understandable, they are still terrible. Aurora didn’t have much of a choice by the end since going back to sleep in the auto-doc would have meant losing Jim, who she still had feeling for. In the end, there was no winning for her. If the filmmakers had explored Aurora’s past in more detail, they could have potentially delved into why she wanted to leave her life behind and go into the future. Doing so would have also helped drive home the message of the film, which was hard to define in its current form. Was it to live in the moment and be happy with what you have? Was it to open yourself up to people that you normally wouldn’t? The filmmakers could have at least shown more of Jim and Aurora’s 90 year journey instead of just giving us that one scene at the end where the crew wakes up and sees their effect on the ship.
Overall, I can’t really recommend seeing Passengers, but I also can’t say that you shouldn’t go see it. If you enjoy Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, you will likely have a good time. And, while the third act really disappointed me, the beginning two-thirds of the film was fantastic. There were so many ideas and so much promise in this film, but in the end, it failed to see those ideas to completion.