Passengers is a glossy space age romance drama that gets by on star power and an intriguing concept, that is until it spirals out of orbit in the third act and crashes headlong into planet stupid.
The story is set some time in the future, on a space ship that houses over 5,000 passengers, all of which are in hibernation for the ship’s 120-year journey to a colony planet far away.
Jim (Chris Pratt) wakes up in his hibernation pod and is promptly instructed by a comforting hologram to get ready for his induction session. Clearly somewhat of an overgrown jock, Jim preens himself in the mirror and fusses over his attire before entering the presentation room. Strangely, he’s the only one in there.
It’s only then that Jim realises that no one else has woken up. After some mad scrambling for information, he learns that his pod has malfunctioned and he’s awake 90 years ahead of schedule.
Jim has no means of communication with the outside world, he can’t return to his pod and he can’t turn the ship back. Doomed to a lifetime of solitude, his only company on board the spacecraft is cyborg bar man Arthur (Michael Sheen).
At least Jim is not for want of creature comforts – there’s no end of recreational facilities at his disposal. By turns, Jim goes from letting his hair down and acting like a kid left alone in a candy shop, to desperately trying to find a solution to his plight, to letting go of himself in resignation of defeat.
After a year on his own, Jim starts checking out the video bios of his sleeping co-habitants. It’s here that he falls in love with Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence). Which brings about an enormous moral dilemma. He’s out of his mind with loneliness, and can’t stop thinking about Aurora, but to wake her would be to condemn her to the same fate as him. She too will die on the ship before it arrives at their destination.
Of course, it’s no spoiler to tell you that he wakes her, Lawrence is on all the movie posters after all. A romance ensues, since, you know, they’re both beautiful, and there’s no one else around. Looming over their joyous courtship though is the terrible secret that Jim is keeping, for Aurora doesn’t know that he’s the reason that she’s awake 90 years too soon.
Up to this point, I was very happy to go along with the whole fantastical yarn, but what follows is such a ridiculous load of codswallop that to suspend disbelief is simply impossible.
It’s a shame, because Jim’s central dilemma is a compelling one and there are all sorts of provocative directions it could have gone in. Instead, writer Jon Spaihts (whose credits don’t get any more sophisticated than Prometheus) just dials everything up to the highest level and hopes we won’t notice how silly the whole thing is. Beware, he’s scripting new installments of The Mummy and Van Helsing.
This is especially disappointing coming from Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, whose last two films were Headhunters and The Imitation Game. He keeps things tight for the first two thirds and there’s some nice humour coming through, but there’s not much he can do with a script that so emphatically jumps the proverbial shark.
Passengers is an enjoyable flight for a good 80 minutes. Unfortunately, it’s followed by an excruciating 40 minutes which will have you wishing you abandoned ship.
Passengers is in cinemas from January 1
Richard Leathem @dickiegee