DIR: Morten Tyldum • WRI: Jon Spaihts • PRO: Stephen Hamel, Michael Maher, Ori Marmur, Neal H. Moritz • DOP: Rodrigo Prieto • ED: Maryann Brandon • DES: Guy Hendrix Dyas • MUS: Thomas Newman • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen
It’s a pity Passengers didn’t come out a couple of years ago when J-Law and C-Pratt were at the height of their fame; that way, when the world exploded we would all have been spared the misery that was 2016.
It’s also a pity, because that way we would have been spared the monstrosity that is Passengers.
Morten Tyldum’s creepy (for all the wrong reasons) Sci-Fi Romance takes place on the good ship Avalon, a passenger vessel transporting five thousand people on a 120-year journey to the distant planet Homestead II, on which they will set up a colony upon arrival. The passengers are put in cryogenic sleep for the duration of the journey, but a malfunction causes mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Pratt) to wake ninety years early. Unable to return to sleep and following a year of exploring the possibilities of life on-board the ship with only a robot bartender for company (Michael Sheen, delightful; probably the only good part of the movie) he decides to wake up another passenger called Aurora Lane (Lawrence).
And then, Jim pretends that this was a malfunction, and sets about to woo Aurora. But don’t worry, he feels really bad about it. When she discovers the truth and doesn’t want to sleep with him anymore, that is. Because I guess true love just looks a little different in space.
It’s hard to know what’s worse here; the jaw-dropping misogyny on show or the lazy, ridiculously convenient world building that is there purely to service the plot (Oh no wait – it’s definitely the misogyny. Like, without question. But the world building is pretty terrible too). The Avalon has been built to carry its passengers in hibernation for over a century, except for the last four months of the journey, when they will all be woken up to take classes (ironically enough) about rebuilding society. For that reason, the ship has been fit with cabins, rec rooms, gymnasiums, restaurants and canteens (not to mention stocking up with enough food, water, clothing, entertainment items and – by the looks it – a heck of a lot of alcohol) to house five thousand active people for over a hundred days. Michael O’Leary would be ashamed by the lack of economy shown by the space travel company. Why put all this extra unnecessary strain on the resources which could be used by the settlers once they arrive on-planet, I hear you ask? Why, so our star-crossed lovers can have an attractive-looking playground in which to play out their creepy, one-sided affair, of course.
One of the many frustrating elements of Passengers is the kernel of much better storytelling that gets ignored in favour of the romance plot. The various malfunctions onboard are shrugged off by all involved as once-offs. Apparently nothing has ever gone wrong on any other interplanetary voyage and that’s just that. There doesn’t seem to be any implication that the for-profit ogranisation running the mission might have more sinister motives. No one seems bothered that Homestead II might not be there when they arrive. Or, you know, what happened on Homestead I (if anything, I have no idea why it’s the second one). While there is some gentle satire of the customer service industry and commentary on the two-tiered system in America, it’s ignored after the first act when there’s canoodling to be done.
Indeed, after the reasonably interesting first half hour of Jim trying to make sense of his new life, which plays out as a mix of Castaway and Moon, any feelings of warmth are instantly sucked out of the movie by the disturbing decision by Jim to awaken Aurora, the implications of which are never fully realised. Instead, Aurora is warned about getting notions above her station as a woman: “I just hope you find someone and quit complaining,” a friend tells her in her goodbye message from Earth.” Lawrence Fishburne, in his brief appearance as a member of the otherwise unseen crew rationalises Jim’s actions, calling him a “drowning man.”
Needless to say, events transpire to allow Jim to emerge as the hero every blockbuster needs. Stuff starts exploding and, shockingly enough, a burly man is just what is needed to save the Avalon. You know what, Aurora? If you had just gone ahead and embraced that sweet, sweet Stockholm syndrome sooner, we probably wouldn’t have had this problem in the first place. Jeez.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Passengers is released 21st December 2016