Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen
Film aficionados were unsure what to make of Passengers, one of the big 2016 Christmas blockbusters, before it was even released. It was a sci-fi but also a romance, it had superstars Lawrence and Pratt but barely anyone else, it was a new intellectual property but the script had been floating around in the Hollywood Black List since before many modern franchises were even created. It seemed to be a very eclectic film from information provided in the build up to the release, and although it is at times confusing in general that doesn’t stop it from being solid and enjoyable.
The film begins with the spaceship ‘Avalon’ being struck by space debris, causing mechanical malfunctions. This causes one of the 5,000 colonists in cryo-sleep, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) and JURASSIC WORLD (2015)) to awaken. After a year alone except for android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen, MASTERS OF SEX (2013 – 2016) and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)), he discovers and falls in love with the sleeping Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence, THE HUNGER GAMES FRANCHISE (2012 – 2015) and JOY (2016)), whom he awakens in a morally ill act. Progressing as a romance underlined by the dark acts involved in her awakening, until secrets become exposed leading to problems which seem to plague the ship itself and threaten their happiness.
Whilst the romantic aspect of PASSENGERS was one played by the marketing of the film, it is clearly not the sole interest of the film. The morality of Preston’s act is constantly revisited throughout the film, evident in deliberations from before the awakening following to the comments of other characters. Another important part of the film is the problems with the ship which are hinted at throughout the whole film; leading to the events of the climax. The triple genre of a romance, a subverted romance and an action film may create tonal difficulties for the film but none too dissonant to distract from the main focus of the film – the relationship between Preston and Lane.
Lawrence, the top-billed star in the film, provides one of the best performances of her career, empathetically depicting the character’s progression from confused to angry to resigned. However, her position as the top-billed star is curious as the main character and show stealer is Pratt, once again proving that it is impossible for him to give an unenjoyable performance. He plays perfectly the suicidal lone survivor, the passionate boyfriend, the action man, and gives a particularly chilling performance when Lane is first awakened as a rather creepy and obsessed lover. It’s just a shame the script asks him to play all these roles, which don’t create a very clear idea of the character.
The actors are definitely the reason to watch the film – although the romance is believable, Preston’s deceptions are rather harrowing and the action at the end is handled well enough, these points all seem to be so tonally varied that they were likely drawn from different drafts of the script. They mix well enough and there is never a point in the film that they stand out negatively but it may appear challenging to categorise what this film really wants to be about. The main problematic part of the film is that the evil of Preston’s act is never considered an integral part of the plot – his deliberations, her reactions to the reveal and the presentation of Preston as creepy and dangerous all comment on this act. Seeming all to be forgotten towards the end due to his acts in the climax. It feels as though a different ending was originally intended, a darker one that was likely removed to make the film more accessible to all audiences.
Preston and Lane’s relationship is enjoyable to observe but special mentions definitely belong to the film’s crew – the cinematography, set design and costume design all work wonders in creating the ship of the Avalon. It’s both luxury and a prison to the characters, containing mysteries yet too many blank spaces. It feels like the audience is just as trapped on the ship as the characters.
Despite numerous minor flaws, PASSENGERS still manages to be entertaining and definitelyone of the better holiday blockbusters. This is largely in part to Lawrence and Pratt, who were co-incidentally the highest-earning actors from the past two years respectively. Whilst it may be out performed by films such as LA LA LAND (2017) at the upcoming seasonal awards it is still definitely worth watching. It works for fans of science fiction, romance, isolation films or simply those who want to watch a mechanically solid film.
Written by Tom Bedford
Edited by John Cheshire