Aida Vucic | 31/12/2016
We didn’t quite make the journey on the Avalon with Passengers. Surprising, given that the script has been one of the most popular unproduced scripts of the past ten years.
Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game was well received and Passengers was anticipated to receive similar accolades. The film is set in space, on the spacecraft Avalon, which is journeying to Homestead 2; an alternative earth that humans intend to inhabit and repopulate with the carefully selected 5,000 passengers, who are suspended in animation by hibernation pods as they make the 120-year journey to their new home.
Cue the obvious, ‘never before-in-hibernation-history’ malfunction as Chris Pratt’s character James Preston (Jim) awakes from his slumber 90 years early. Upon waking from his pod, Jim searches the empty spacecraft for his fellow passengers and is disturbed to find that he is the only passenger awake aboard the Avalon. A year follows in which he seeks a resolution to his predicament, but to no avail. Jim finds solace in the one-sided relationship with fellow passenger Aurora Lane played by Jeniffer Lawrence.
After Aurora awakes, the obvious happens and the pair fall in love. The chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence is undeniable. The pair’s performance rescues an otherwise rote piece of work. Pratt plays Jim much quieter than his previous performances. There are beautiful moments in his performance, with a particular standout being his clear conflict during the montage leading up to his heart wrenching decision; his whispered “please don’t do this” plea to himself showing the range of the previously almost one-note actor. Lawrence, of course, is a powerhouse from the moment her character wakes up, and her rage at Jim towards the end of Act 2 is particularly enjoyable to watch.
An android bartender named Arthur, who is played by Michael Sheen, provides the comic relief and also spills the beans on the terrible things Jim has done. Sheen gives a slightly off-kilter performance that is entirely welcome. Indeed, these three actors bring much more credibility to dialogue that isn’t deserving of them. Some of Lawrence’s lines would be particularly cringe-worthy coming from a lesser actor, but her delivery just manages to maintain that façade of believability.
Lest we forget the random additional hibernation pod malfunction of Gus (Laurence Fishburne) who is conveniently a Chief Deck Officer with access to all the restricted areas of the spacecraft and who is terminally ill, so as not to be too much of a third wheel.
Effectively described as Titanic in space, Passengers flirts with two genres; sci-fi romance and disaster movie all packaged into one. Yet, neither genre is well executed. There is an apparent lack of cohesion between the two genres, almost a conflict. Neither of the genres were developed enough, the relationship between Jim and Aurora was weak and although intended to be portrayed as ‘meant to be’, was delivered as a relationship of convenience. While it does provide interesting food for thought with regards to whether relationships are meant-to-be or creatures of convenience, the third acts reunion of Jim and Aurora feels forced after so much pain and so little development. Indeed, the relationship feels very one sided throughout (perhaps because of how much we know about Jim and his year alone on board the Avalon), but it feels even more one-sided in the finale – remarkable, given that this is the part of the film where we are meant to see them finally unite together for good.
Jon Spaihts script was so desired because it was so focused on character, and yet despite the enjoyable chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence, Tydlum’s Passengers feels distant and undeserving of it’s main love story. It would have been interesting to see what a Villeneuve or Chazelle would have done with such a strong premise, but with Tydlum’s hand Passengers is a fairly paint-by-numbers piece of work that only eclipses it’s premise due to strong performances by it’s leads.
Pratt and Lawrence prove they work well together, but they can’t save this middle-of-the-road Titanic rip-off from becoming a middling sci-fi romance that, much like the Avalon itself, looks pretty but is almost entirely devoid of life.