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Passengers
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Passengers Movie Review

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are electric on-screen together and the sci-fi romantic thriller Passengers proves to be a moderately entertaining jaunt, though your enjoyment factor will depend heavily on whether you can overlook a rather glaring plot point that is understandably omitted from the trailers.

Passengers finds Pratt and Lawrence alone on board a sleek spaceship, awoken from hibernation 90 years before they were supposed to with no way to go back to sleep. So the two do what two attractive, personable individuals in their situation would do: fall in love and have a lot of sex, with the occasional space walk thrown in for good measure.

Both Pratt and Lawrence are quite good in the movie as their chemistry is what largely drives the film; while the ship is elegantly designed and director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) establishes enough interesting situations for the two to do things, the movie primarily involves watching the two of them interact and deal with their rather unique situation.

Which is all well and good and, for at least a while, makes for a sci-fi film that feels a bit more pure, less concerned about action or aliens or explosions or your typical modern sci-fi cliche.

Where Passengers falls down is in its third act, with three factors converging to make the movie nearly unwieldy. How much you enjoy the film will depend on whether you find the last section of the film silly, stupid or downright insulting.

You see, while trying to be vague, Pratt’s character does something really, really shitty, and it’s not the kind of “lying by omission” that is common in Hollywood-made romances. Based on reactions from my fellow critics, this plot point is extremely offensive and grounds for the movie to just wrap up right there and go home. My issue, however, is not that the plot point exists--but that the script by Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, another sci-fi movie with plenty of third act failings) fails to explore the implications of such in a meaningful way. The plot point in question actually makes things more interesting--but Spaihts and Tyldum don’t let their characters’ personal journeys come to an organic end, where the two can figure out how to live (or not) with decisions that have been made.

While watching Passengers, it occurred to me that this final product may be significantly different than what was originally conceived. I can imagine a movie where two strangers are alone on a spaceship and know they’re going to die on that spaceship, and the entire story is about their relationship: what if they love each other? What if they fall out of love with each other? What if they can’t stand each other? What if one does something really bad to the other person? Those are interesting questions, and ones you’d expect to be answered in a “pure sci-fi” kind of film.

Passengers starts down this path, but doesn’t end on it. That’s because the third act, instead of trying to intelligently answer these questions, opts for a dumb Hollywood solution: have something go wrong with the ship, leaving it to the main characters to rescue everyone on board (and due to adrenaline or risk of death forgive past infractions).

The risk of death is not without its excitement factor, but boy does Passengers get stupid in its final minutes. For a film that felt like legitimate sci-fi for a while, its complete “fuck you” to physics is rather stunning. A couple sequences set in space completely defy all common sense, which makes you wonder why Tyldum, if he wanted to have an exciting finish, didn’t at least do something a bit more grounded.

Despite all its flaws, there is something in Passengers to enjoy. I’ll admit that in the moment the “offensive” aspects of the movie didn’t bother me, and they still don’t, at least not significantly. The movie is interesting, and it’s entertaining. It isn’t as smart as it wants to be and it misses a huge opportunity to overcome its characters’ actions by devolving into a thriller when it probably didn’t need to. You may be offended by Passengers, but if you’re not, then you may find enough to like here. And I imagine this is the type of film where the people most offended by the movie will be critics, not average moviegoers who are satisfied with seeing Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence flirt and fornicate.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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