A beguilingly misleading trailer and marketing campaign do nothing to lift the ever-so-slightly uncomfortable feeling resulting from the plot in Passengers. By turns a slick and sweeping adventure thriller, then glitzy star-vehicle-blockbuster-fodder, then a touching but generic love story and finally a creepy moralistic ponderance, director Morten Tyldum‘s space jam is fun to watch but will leave you with some questions over its ethical tail, tucked coyly between its protagonist’s legs. Not just in terms of the story itself but how the people behind the film have coerced their ticket-buying audience, essentially lying to viewers through the trailer and posters ahead of the release to try to imply there is a twist which makes the film intriguing and worth seeing – when there is not.
Because of that retrospectively added ‘twist’ (which happens in the first half hour, so not really a twist – which conventionally comes at the end – but just the story) and because of the need to avoid doing the ‘spoiler’ thing, all that can really be said is that leading man Chris Pratt’s character, Jim, does something wholly unforgivable. We’re then expected to root for him and have him as our hero opposite Jennifer Lawrence‘s heroine, Aurora. Unfortunately, that’s just not possible because, yep, he did that unforgivable thing. It does loosely raise the question ‘would you do the same thing in the same situation?’ but then quickly forgets that it ever asked and glosses over the whole incident.
Anyway, it looks spectacular with stunning CGI, special effects and super modernist production design all lending to a compelling ‘near future’ space setting. However, this all proves largely incidental to the so-hot-right-now-uber-stars, Pratt and Lawrence, swanning around in a combination of ridiculously revealing outfits or just appearing semi-naked. Well, they are so-hot-right-now-uber-stars after all. Obviously the studio and/or filmmakers were aware of the assets at their disposal and weren’t going to miss out on the opportunity to exploit them. Shots of Jennifer Lawrence in her swimming costume and of Pratt with his arse out are sure to turn some heads but at what cost to the film’s integrity?
Well, sadly, it’s a considerable bill which gets paid by scrimping on the script and that old fashioned thing called narrative. An approach to storytelling that we will call ‘plot-lite’ allows the movie to, well, movie along. That’s not to say it’s without any creative craft or movie-making merit whatsoever, that would be unfair and also untrue. Some nice visual touches, like an homage to The Gold Room bar from ‘The Shining’, give a sense of style and elevate the isolation we’re expected to feel for our heroes. And in that bar, Michael Sheen pretty well steals the show with his nonsensical but effortlessly charismatic android bartender, giving a welcome dose of comic relief to off-set the ‘drama’. Pratt and Lawrence do their work commendably, exhibiting palpable chemistry and both showing signs of their latent abilities to do some of that there acting malarkey and carry a movie on their handsome shoulders.
The opening act shows real promise, just a shame that what it promises is to take you on a fun but somewhat dumb ride, only ever flirting with having an emotional or cerebral core but really just being a vehicle for its stars to shine and make-out in some steamy love scenes. Glimpses of some really cool Sci-Fi ideas nudge their way through the gloss, the swimming pool sequence in particular, but can’t do enough to punch through the resultant feeling that the studio just wanted something that looked good for its good-looking stars to make them some even-better-looking profit.
Visually pleasing and entertaining enough, Passengers are very much what Pratt and Lawrence are reduced to in this glitzy star vehicle. A bit of a space oddity.