Passengers online movie review - An Agreeable Waste of Time
Set in an undetermined future time, Passengers has some 5000 space pioneers aboard a gigantic spacecraft en route from Earth to an undeveloped and unsettled planet called Homestead II.
The travelers were eager enough for a new beginning that they abandoned all worldly friendships and associations, and submitted themselves to suspended animation, enforced hibernation, for the 120-year voyage to the distant Homestead II planet.
Unfortunately, some thirty years into the voyage the spaceship runs through an uncharted asteroid field, which causes a system failure. One of the passengers, a mechanical engineer named Jim Preston, is accidentally revived from his hibernation. And after a day or two of exploring the cavernous space vessel, he realizes he's not only alone, but also likely to remain alone from the remainder of his life?his shipmates, including the flight crew, all will be remain in suspended animation for ninety more years.
Preston is played by actor Chris Pratt. Pratt is a wonderfully engaging performer who's been attracting a lot of notice recently, not only from his starring appearances in such Hollywood blockbusters as Jurassic World and Guardians of the Galaxy, but also in smaller supporting roles in pictures like Kathryn Bigelow's 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty?he played a member of US Navy Seal team on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden?and Antoine Fuqua's remake of The Magnificent Seven earlier this year.
Pratt's screen persona is similar to that of the late James Garner?a reluctant hero with a stubborn streak of integrity dire circumstances can't quite overcome, often conscripted by circumstances to step up and make a stand against forces which threaten others. But unlike Garner, Pratt projects an aura of sweetly childlike naiveté which seems to make audiences want to reach out and protect him.
But as Vincent Price, Charlton Heston, and Will Smith learned in the various screen versions of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, it's difficult for an actor to appear alone on screen for an extended period and still maintain the interest and emotional investment of the audience. And despite some support from the versatile Michael Sheen as an amiable android bartender who serves as a sort of Greek chorus, a solo performance is what Pratt needs to deliver for the first quarter of Passengers' 116-minute running time. Then his character makes a choice which risks losing the audience's goodwill entirely:
After a year of isolation and despite the entertainment amenities and activities of the spacecraft?lounges, gymnasiums, nightclubs, movies, spacewalking, and the most awesome Wii system you're even seen?Pratt's Jim Preston is literally dying of loneliness. He's actually considering ending it all when he becomes emotionally obsessed with one of the 4999 fellow travelers still in artificial hibernation, a journalist played by the wonderfully charismatic Jennifer Lawrence.
And the moment Jennifer Lawrence's unthawed feet hit the deck, the movie starts to zing. On full display in Passengers is Lawrence's plain-spoken, self-deprecating let's get this party rolling persona, which has endeared the actress to movie and television talk show audiences over the past handful of years.
Lawrence's performance seems also to ignite something in Pratt?their scenes together are as charming as those between the title characters in Disney's Lady and the Tramp, and for much the same reason. As a means of making sure we're paying attention, the filmmakers have named Lawrence's character Aurora, an obvious nod to Disney's Sleeping Beauty, Princess Aurora.
But also accompanying Lawrence's arrival on screen is the central on screen conflict: In waking Aurora prematurely from suspended animation, Jim has selfishly robbed her of her plans and ambitions for a life on Homestead II and beyond, for no better reason than to provide company for the lonely mechanic. What's going to happen when she finds out?
The filmmakers are not too adept at explaining the science behind the fiction, but are fairly good at covering their tracks: Every time the audience thinks they've spotted an anomaly in the plot, a new wrinkle is introduced that might or might not smooth it over. That's almost excusable in Passengers, because it keeps us on our toes enough to allow other nagging distractions to slip by, such as why Pratt's character left the signature scruff on his face after he shaved off the rest of the fake-looking movie beard he grew during his year of isolation.
The one distraction too large to ignore is that Jon Spaihts' script can't decide whether Passengers is a romance, a character study, or a science fiction thriller: It's too much of each and not enough of any. And despite some eye-popping special effects?there's a honey of a scene in which the ship's artificial gravity fails while Lawrence is taking a dip in the swimming pool?there's too much plot going on to pause and savor them.
Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, who also guided 2014's The Imitation Game, keeps Passengers plodding forward evenly enough to resolve the various plots, although at times the movie seems as tedious as the 120 years required to travel from Earth to Homestead II. And Thomas Newman's techno-pop music score is pleasant enough, with a few old standards thrown in to augment certain scenes, but seems to have been composed for a more lighthearted picture. Whatever it is, Passengers is not a comedy.
In the end, it's Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt who carry Passengers and sell it to the audience. The undiluted rapport they generate with the audience inspires us to forgive most of the picture's problems and deficiencies. It's an agreeable expenditure of holiday time. Unfortunately, instead of a love story, a persuasive science fiction saga, or a rumination on the effects of isolation, Passengers instead becomes an explanation of why movie stars are paid such enormous salaries.