Review by Erik Engel
Let’s accompany Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings) on their journey to a new life and a whole new world, literally. Just keep in mind, we are never going to arrive, although some people argue the journey is the destination. This time they may be right as we see the actors fighting not just for themselves but also for 5000 strangers.
With Academy Award Winner Jennifer Lawrence in the cast you can’t really do anything wrong these days. But ‘Passengers’ only introduces her character, the journalist Aurora Lane, in the late stages of the film, starting off instead by making us acquainted with Chris Pratt’s engineer Jim Preston. He wakes up on the self-spinning spacecraft Avalon, which is carrying 5000 other passengers and 253 crew members to their new home, planet Homestead II. Only one problem though, he is the only one awake on the ship. After the Avalon is hit by a huge meteor shower, all system failures could be repaired except for one, Jim’s hibernation pod, the sleeping cabin installed for each individual traveler. The engineer, who was invited on board because of his skills in building and constructing new colonies, only realizes his exclusive condition after overcoming his traveling sickness. The Avalon, which is supposed to arrive at Homestead II after a 120-year trip, woke Jim up 90 years too early and, being only a passenger of the lowest pay-grade, he is denied access to the most important facilities like the bridge of the ship.
It doesn’t take him long to figure out that re-hibernation is not an option and that the corridor to the sleeping crew will stay shut until four months prior to arrival. His only company now is the android bartender Arthur (Martin Sheen), who represents Jim’s only chance for human interaction. A short personal high involving Jim breaking into the villa suite, playing non-competitive basketball, getting drunk and walking around butt-naked quickly finds an end with his loneliness slowly creeping up on him again and again. Finally, he runs, more or less accidentally, into his sleeping beauty Aurora Lane, a writer and Journalist who hopes that becoming a colonist on a very far away planet will be her breakthrough story on earth. Jim, however, becomes increasingly obsessed with the idea of waking her up intentionally, creating the effect of another technical malfunction. Spoiler Alert: he does! Who would have thought? Aurora realizes her fate pretty soon with Jim’s help and keeps her mind distracted with sports, writing and, in the end, also Jim. The movie develops into a love story that is thrown right into the third-act drama. The malfunctions on the Avalon start to mount, risking a self-destruction only our two heroes can stop.
Passengers really plays with the emotions of its audience. Love, betrayal, loneliness, action but also comedy, injected by a brilliant Chris Pratt, all find their way into a rather simple story. But the sibling-like dynamic relationship of outstanding harmony on- and off-screen between Lawrence and Pratt makes us forget the unavoidable; Aurora finds out Jim is lying but they bond again in a fight for the lives of their 5000 companions. Breathtaking visuals like a swimming pool off gravity or casual space walks really compensate for the rather functional lay-out of the inside of the Avalon.
Director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) sends us on a luxurious sci-fi adventure with an astonishing resemblance to Titanic. Our protagonists Aurora and Jim are caught on an (not really) abandoned cruise ship for 5000 people experiencing its opulence all for themselves and, as it threatens to sink, they take it into their own hands to save the lives of their unconscious fellows.
Passengers really is a one-woman and one-man show. The drama between the two main characters represents the drama of their spaceship, which is saved in the end. Therefore, maybe the movie’s a bit too predictable but at the same time it fits so nicely into the Hollywood-Happy End-scheme Passengers is nothing out of the ordinary. Still, I was captured by the innovative script that, unusually, does not end with Marvel superheroes saving the day or aliens threatening the Earth with mass destruction. Also, a special mention has to go out to Chris Pratt who slowly seems to be sneaking into the top ranks of Hollywood actors.