"We boarded the Avalon with a destination. 120 years hibernation, wake up on a new planet in a new century. But a year ago everything changed."
One common theory amongst film critics today is that despite the fact that studios still push them as if they are a big deal, the movie star as a concept is all but dead. I have to conceded it is a good theory, after all when was the last time a movie drew in mass audiences just because of it’s cast? In a world of franchises and proven properties there’s no room for Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard to have their second rate ‘Casablanca’ pull in the money, so what hope do Jenifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt have at selling their intergalactic love story?
The star ship Avalon is transporting over 5000 colonists to a new planet when two of them are unexpectedly awoken from their hibernation pods. Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jenifer Lawrence) must now deal with the prospect of spending eighty years with no other human contact and must ensure that the ship completes its journey safely.
‘Passengers’ is about as generic as they come. In fact it is generic to such an extent, so tailor made to have a mass appeal that ultimately I’m confused as to who it is even supposed to be for anyway. If it is a romance then is skips over a majority of what would interest any fan of that genre. If it is science fiction then there are too many contrived plot points for the narrative to be taken seriously in that regard. If it is supposed to be a thriller of some kind then I hate to break it to these filmmakers but one bolted on sort-of-action scene near the end does not qualify it as that. If it wants to be a prestige picture then it is not complex or engaging enough to do that either Even if it is nothing more than a star vehicle for Lawrence and Pratt then it becomes so slow and tedious that I can’t imagine even the most casual of moviegoers being entertained by it.
None of this is to say the film is unspeakably awful. In fact that is the most frustrating thing. If I could point to one aspect of the movie and yell “That’s it, that’s what ruins it” then I would be fine. But there is no dancing Johnny Depp, no Martha moment and no mind numbingly incompetent direction. Instead we see a film where all aspects from the writing to the acting, from the directing to the special effects, are all inoffensively fine. But at the same time they never come remotely close to achieving anything worthwhile or interesting. It says about the film as a whole that though the premise and certain plot points evoke some darker turns for the story the film strays far away from them. While a lot of critics have felt the need to pass moral judgement on the actions certain characters undertake in the film I wouldn’t have an issue with it if the film at least addressed the concept and did something interesting with it. But despite discussing it and acknowledging said actions, ‘Passengers’ drops any darker implications once it’s convenient.
But speaking of Pratt and Lawrence, though they share some genuine chemistry their individual performances rarely live up to the time they spend on screen together. Neither actor conveys the idea that they are a fully fleshed individual (not that the screenplay itself really gives them a chance to do so anyway) so once alone they come across as rather bland and uninteresting. Thankfully Michael Sheen is there to drop by as one of the ship’s automated computers, and though Sheen’s performance is more engaging due to the outlandish nature of his role, it still offers little interest in regards to the actual film as a whole.
It also does not help that the films pace is somewhat baffling. It almost lacks structure entirely, slowly dripping from one mundane piece of drama to the next. Each event seems completely limited to itself in what feels like a deliberately episodic format. It comes across as a repetitive TV show that lacks a good showrunner, opting instead to let each new episode plod along slowly until it is time to move onto the next one. But as the film drags on even these events become indistinguishable from another and I was beginning to forget if Jim and Aurora were trying to stop an asteroid hitting the ship or if they were fixing the ship’s technical malfunctions.
Under the direction of Morten Tyldum ‘Passengers’ becomes even more woefully generic. Once again I can’t fault Tyldum as an awful director, but his style is so lacking in flair or originality that I can’t really commend it either. Each shot just looks so falsely polished and artificially constructed. The fact that the environment is a smooth and characterless star ship only hinders this further, as with each new piece of action from anti-gravity scenes to moments of tension set in outer space my mind drifted to where I had seen the same scenario in a different film, all of which were better than ‘Passengers’.
While no singular element of ‘Passengers’ is atrocious, the film as a whole is so generically passable that I can’t see myself remembering it mere days from now.