Fortunately, we have seen a revival of good space ferrying films, some of my favorites of recent years have been Interstellar and The Martian, so I was highly anticipating watching Passengers with the cross genre between Romance and Science Fiction.
Set on the self-navigated spaceship Avalon, 5000 people are travelling in hibernation pods to start a new life on the colony Homebound 2. The trip should take 120 years but due to an unexplained jolt in space, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and then Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) are awoken 30 years too early. The story revolves around Jim and Aurora accepting their 90-year journey together forming a deep and meaningful bond. However, not all is quite what is seems when a series of supposed malfunctions put the lives of the 5000 unconscious human beings under threat, and it’s up to the only human passengers, Jim and Aurora to save the day. There is a short guest appearance from Laurence Fishburne which keeps the film ticking along, but the most notable performance goes to the Android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen).
The overall premise of the film is compelling, but the first 30 minutes of the film is a disappointment mostly due to Chris Pratt’s lacklustre performance, as he tries desperately to illustrate the highs and lows of living alone. From waking from his chamber, Jim tries to make the most of his unfortunate circumstances and turns his attention to the delights of the ship including holographic dance offs to indoor space basketball. This quickly dissipates into Jim becoming depressed knowing he would never speak to another human being again. It reminded me a little of the loneliness portrayed by Tom Hanks in Castaway, a forlorn soul longing for human contact becoming more disheveled in appearance as the days go on. However, Chris Pratt is no Tom Hanks nor can he shine in stand alone scenes.
The story becomes a lot more watchable when Aurora steps into the picture. Jennifer Lawrence stuns in every film, not only visually, but her wit, charisma and has a good backstory to her character. As a writer, Aurora start to narrate the story of her life on board the starship, telling the viewers she wanted to travel to Homebound 2 to be the only writer on ‘overrated Earth’ to share the experiences of colonist life. Her character has purpose, momentum and sass, in stark comparison to Jim’s weak performance and lack of character development. There is some chemistry between the two main leads, but you quickly feel that the plot was designed to showcase two beautiful individuals on screen together.
The saving grace of this film is the android bartender Arthur. Michael Sheen effortlessly conveys a witty and heartfelt performance still maintaining mechanical expressions, which is a difficult feat in itself. Even Michael Sheen said it was hard to ’make drinks and not look down’. I especially loved how Arthur had a human body and electronic legs to remind the audience that Arthur is a part of the Ship and Jim and Aurora are really alone. The film also uses Arthur as prop to become a sounding board to the main characters, which allows the film to explore the depths and questionable ethics the characters must face, being the only conscious human beings in space.
Overall this film fails to be a cutting edge science fiction debut or memorable romantic comedy. I think the film’s greatest strength was the notion that perhaps one day that we will be able to travel in space cryogenic-ally frozen, but for now as the film likes to remind us, that we are simply passengers on this journey, and its far better to be happy to accept our surrounding than long for a life that’s unobtainable. Would I see this film again, no, but if you want to sit and watch two beautiful stars for 2 hours then by all means watch this film.