Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Lovable goof-bro turned glowering beefcake Chris Pratt plays Jim Preston, a steerage class mechanical engineer whose hibernation pod malfunctions 30 years into a 120-year journey aboard the Starship Avalon. For a year, Jim’s only companions are Arthur the android bartender (Sheen), the female-voiced ship’s computer and an emoji-faced help kiosk. These Siri-surrogates serve the perfunctory need of exposition, guiding Jim through his despair with cereal, sushi and spirits. While Drew Goddard and Matt Damon were powerless to keep the Golden Globes from declaring The Martian a comedy, it must have taken an extraordinary whit to negate the awesome power of Chris Pratt’s natural charm (see also Jurassic World), but writer Jon Spaihts appears to pull it off effortlessly.
The set design of the bar and Arthur’s amiable, inhuman demeanor seem an obvious nod to The Shining, and as Jim’s scruff succumbs to full-on Grizzly Adams’ scraggle, one certainly couldn’t be blamed for expecting some kind of Jack Torrance-level breakdown. But fear not, for Passengers deigns not to distress you with such intrigue, implications to the contrary be damned! Instead, poor Jim Preston, one year into his 90-year solitude, having exhausted all his mechanical engineering know-how, gives up—until, that is, he sees his sleeping beauty. Hopelessly lovelorn/lonely/horny, Jim does the equivalent of Facebook-stalking, falls in love, then beats himself up for the span of a minute screen-time before doing the inevitable and condemning Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) to join him.
His decision could be her force majeure, leaving her to deal with her unfair fate, trapped with the man responsible, making Passengers a treatise on love and cowardice, The Loneliest Planet set in space. Recall that the film and the filmmakers mercifully spare us from such distressing intrigue. In another bold choice to pit the actors against their strengths, the woman who elevated Katniss Everdeen from the YA world to the popular lexicon is stripped of her agency, her power and her clothes. Later, when an external dilemma arrives and is dealt with, Jim’s seemingly unforgivable act is all but forgotten, somehow nullified by the outer force, though nothing has changed. It’s a psychological plot hole in a film riddled with plenty of practical ones.
Such an admirable aversion to anything challenging, emotionally or intellectually, still can’t quell every speck of inspiration. Despite the dull futurism of the ship’s design, one can’t deny it: that space pool is cool. And buried somewhere, like a dormant blood clot, is the kernel of a thought-provoking film, one not so satisfied to be a safe, surface-level, sci-fi romance. Before I saw Passengers, I clarified, “it’s the pretty-people-in-space movie.” I had no idea how right I was.