Passengers is a fantastic concept for a film and, starring the two hottest actors in the world, a guaranteed success, but inept, lazy filmmaking allows this concept to descend into cliche and disturbing moral carelessness.
Aboard the starship Avalon, more than 5,000 passengers and crew lie in a 120 year slumber on their way to Homestead II. When the Avalon’s shield allows a piece of debris to punch a hole in the reactor, the entire ship begins malfunctioning. One of the first malfunctions is the awakening of engineer Jim Parker (Chris Pratt) 90 years early, sentencing him to die of old age before he ever sees another human being again. Distraught in his isolation, Parker becomes obsessed with the story of another of the passengers, journalist Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). In an act of unspeakable selfishness and cruelty, Parker awakens her so she can share in his horrifying fate.
That whole Stockholm Syndrome subplot take you off guard and change your entire perception of the movie? It should. It’s impossible to overstate how much this completely unnecessary plot point dominates and devastates the movie. Where it should be a melodramatic examination of isolation, depression and optimism tinged with cynical commentary on commercialism, with Parker’s and Lane’s relationship undermined by the question of whether or not they’d be together if they weren’t the only two people they’d ever see again, the movie instead defaults almost immediately to romantic cliches that are both awful on their own and completely tone-deaf to what’s actually going on between the characters. The cherry on top of this plotline, which is structurally the movie’s main conflict, is the dismount, when the whole thing is essentially forgotten.
The goal behind having this tension in their relationship seems to be in line with a larger goal of making the movie as standard and unchallenging as possible for a general audience. Not only was this unnecessary, given that a general audience is already guaranteed by virtue of featuring the two biggest stars in the world at the moment, not only is it horribly irresponsible given the movie’s actual ethical implications, but it’s a waste of a great premise.
This basic idea behind the making of Passengers is everpresent in the movie — good on director Morten Tyldum, I guess, for accomplishing his goal, even if that goal was to actively make the movie worse — android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) is a particularly lazy, if admittedly delightful, device to give the characters someone else to express their feelings to. But the most annoying thing that keeps popping up is how quickly the movie jumps from scene to scene.
Just after Parker first wakes up, the movie spends a few minutes with him in a few different areas as he discovers his plight, then breaks into a montage and never slows back down. Just as the movie was a great idea that was squandered, several scenes within it get squandered because the movie simply won’t slow down and have them.
Celebrating the anniversary of Lane’s awakening, Parker takes her to the bridge to observe as the Avalon slingshots around Arcturus. What should be a magnificent scene about getting to see a red giant closer than any human ever will — and also a profound one, as they would never have had the experience had they not been woken up far earlier than they should have been — is instead a few bright moments of CGI and then over.
As the ship continues to malfunction, it momentarily loses gravity while Lane is in the swimming pool, trapping her in an immense globe of water. What should be a taut scene of claustrophobia is instead less than a minute and cut with other, far less interesting things happening around the ship.
Even the movie’s climax, in which they finally identify what’s going wrong, is dictated by a hyperactive score and too-fast cuts. The movie just can’t let its scenes stand on their own merit — if it’s supposed to be stressful, it must be edited stressfully, even if that weakens the scene itself.
I crave the arthouse version of this movie, the challenging one that focuses on the profound suffering and internal conflicts inherent in the premise. Not the movie that was released. That movie is a burnt lasagna of banal storytelling shortcuts, absolutely lousy with missed opportunities to be a better film.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, syndicated columnist at the Lewisville Texan Journal and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.