Friday, December 30, 2016

Review: Passengers

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures.
Not quite as bad as you may have heard - but still not very good and ultimately misguided - Morten Tyldum's "Passengers" can't quite sail by on the abilities of its stars. The film takes an intriguing concept - that I'm going to have to spoil, so stop reading at this point if you don't mind knowing a major plot thread in the picture - and rather than explore its complexities, takes a standard route that ends up making it creepier than it needs to be.

Tyldum's previous film was "The Imitation Game," an enjoyable historical thriller and Oscar nominee, but his latest mostly falls flat. The movie's concept could have made for a better movie: a spaceship carries some 5,000 passengers to a faraway planet, where they'll begin a new colony. No, Earth isn't in ruins - although we never see it - as is the case in most futuristic films, but rather the voyage gives its passengers a chance to start anew.

The catch is that the journey takes more than 100 years to reach its destination and, therefore, those aboard are frozen into a deep-sleep hibernation that will preserve them during the century-long trip. However, one passenger - a mechanic named Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) - awakens early by accident and, realizing that he'll live and die alone aboard the ship while all of the others sleep, has to make a very difficult decision. And, here's that spoiler alert again: Rather than choosing to be alone, Jim finds a passenger named Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), whom he cyber stalks and then awakens.

But Aurora is led to believe that she accidentally woke up in the same manner that Jim did and he struggles with whether he should tell her that he effectively ruined her life so that he wouldn't be lonely. Although his behavior is, well, reprehensible - albeit understandable, considering the circumstances - this could have made for an emotionally complex science fiction film.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers decide to go the typical Hollywood route and plunge the two leads into a romance. Of course, the big reveal for Aurora eventually comes and she's none too happy about it. However, further technological deterioration on the ship as well as a convenient early wake-up call for another crew member (Laurence Fishburne) - again, conveniently someone who has a deeper knowledge of the ship - prevents the film from exploring much further the consequences of Jim's actions.

The final 30 minutes or so involve the three passengers attempting to save the ship from bursting into a big ball of flame caused by an asteroid striking one of its mechanical parts. And the way that the film wraps up Jim and Aurora's story - complete with a rescue out in the cosmos - doesn't satisfy the complex situation that the two characters are actually in. To cap things off, there's a particularly strange moment very late in the film in which a name actor literally serves as an extra.

"Passengers" could have been a thoughtful take on Elton John's assertion that it's "lonely out in space" and the material is there - Jim's decision to essentially destroy another person's life in order to fulfill his own needs - for a genre movie that could have been provoking. But the filmmakers ultimately throw peril in the two characters' paths so that they can come to some sort of reconciliation and, frankly, it doesn't feel earned. Lawrence is a bona fide movie star and Pratt is a likable lead, so this film feels like a wasted opportunity.

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