If you follow any sort of film media, and I’m guessing you do by the fact you’re reading this, you’ll know what us critics have been screaming out for. A decently budgeted original film. Something that is not a reboot, based on another form of media or a real life story. Something that has come from the mind of a script writer, rather than the man of a script writer thirty years ago. And one of the biggest releases with an original story over the last few months was Passengers, but was it the film us critics have been wanting for the last few months? Let’s find out.
In search for a better life, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy) is put into stasis so he can make the 120 years long flight through space to get from Earth to Homestead 2. However his stasis pod malfunctions and wakes him just a few years into his deep sleep, meaning he is doomed to die on the spaceship Avalon.
Something you don’t really get in modern films is dream casting where two of the biggest actors get cast together, so I’m very grateful for the fact Passengers revives this. You get one of the most popular male actors in Chris Pratt and put him together with Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games), who plays the other person who ends up being woken up and we’ll get to that controversy soon enough, one of the most popular female actors around right now. And quite frankly, it works as well as you’d expect. The two are some of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood right now and their scenes together are very fun to watch because there is just so much chemistry there. Of course the relationship is questionable, soon, I promise soon, but the scenes they have together manage to make you forget that.
And I absolutely love the production design of Passengers. The Avalon spaceship is essentially a futuristic cruise ship, and it’s actually a rather wonderful place. The sets are gigantic, which really help hammer home the isolation that Jim is feeling in the first third, and really impressively made, from the canteen to the stasis pod chamber to the atrium of the ship. It looks and feels like an actual cruise ship from the future and somewhere you’d actually like to go. Something I appreciate is that many sci-fi films do like to make their settings feel really cold to make you realise how far from home you are, but here they are happy to make the Avalon seem like a lovely place. It’s the circumstances that are horrible, not the actual ship.
But you are waiting for me to get to the elephant in the room, the event that sparked a million tiresome hot takes. Spoilers ahead. So during the film, Jim becomes severely depressed at how alone he is, and ends up fantasizing about Aurora, one of the girls sleeping in a pod. Desperate to meet her, he wakes her up, essentially killing her. Considering this turns into a romance between the two, this is an incredibly dark and controversial part of the film which has sparked a lot of anger on the internet. I saw one article call this rape, which is a bit much for me but this created a whole lot of emotion.
But the whole point of this plot point is that it causes a lot of anger and discussion. For a while the film does discuss this intelligently with Jim being incredibly guilty for what he did and of course as this is a Chekhov’s Gun of sorts, it does get revealed and the fallout is very well done and well acted. One of the main points of the film is to see whether you would empathise with Jim or not with what he did. He was alone and set to be alone for the rest of his life. And the film poses the question of whether you would end up doing the same thing if you were put in that situation. It’s using a sci-fi question to poke at our morality, something I really like.
However Passengers ends up ruining this by forgetting this is a very interesting conceit and trying to be a big blockbuster. Because of course we have to find out why the stasis pod malfunctioned in the first place and of course the ship has to be in some sort of peril. So basically, this intriguing sci-fi film ends up becoming Titanic but in space. And a boring version at that. We’ve seen it before with that film and that film took two hours to make sure it had a large cast of characters you cared about before everything went bad. While there are a lot of people in this film, they are all sleeping and so the stakes feel a lot lower. And also the ending ruin all the effort put into the moral question the film poses, meaning that the hot takes are actually portraying a lot of justifiable anger. That’s more irritating that anything else that they are sort of right because of this ending!
Passengers is a film that ruins so much potential. It has an incredible setting which looks amazing, there’s some brilliant sound as well, plus there’s great chemistry between our two leads. The film then has a great moral question, something that really disturbs the human soul as many people might be forced to acknowledge the objectively heinous thing that Jim does in this movie. But because it was too scared to think a general audience could be gripped by such a simple conceit, it has to start blowing things up and making it go all Titanic on us, yet it lacks any of the balls that film has. This film could have been so much more.