Passengers might as well have been made by robots using Google. After the success of Gravity and The Martian, people love space movies, right? Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are immensely loved by the public, so they can’t do wrong! Let’s take a director straight off an Oscar nomination (The Imitation Game’s Morten Tyldum) and a writer coming off a big-budget spectacle (Doctor Strange’s Jon Spaihts), mix all these elements up, then see what happens! Passengers is the worst sum of its parts, a film that screams of crowdsourced ideas, focus group testing, and watered down concepts. Passengers is a sci-fi romance that doesn’t have any original ideas and is far creepier than loving.
Passengers takes place entirely on the Avalon, a giant space station that takes its 5,000+ crew and passengers to a new planet, known as Homestead II. Earth has become too expensive and crowded, so for those looking to get away, the 120-year journey to Homestead II seems to be their only option. Only a fourth of the way to their destination, Jim (Pratt) wakes from his sleep with ninety years left on his trip.
For an entire year, Jim wanders the Avalon alone, attempting to get back into hibernation and trying to forget that he will die before he ever arrives at his new home. Jim’s solo journey is Passengers at its strongest, likely because it limits the amount of clunky dialogue and despite recycling ideas from Moon, The Martian, and The Last Man on Earth, it still evokes those films and shows in an entertaining way. The most obvious reference in Passengers is Michael Sheen as Arthur, an android bartender that is stolen straight from The Shining (right down to the bar’s matching carpet). Yet Sheen is the only actor who comes out of Passengers unscathed, bringing humor and surprise in a film that mostly lacks either.
When Jim realizes he has another 89 years left of putzing around, he decides his best bet for staying sane is to wake up another passenger. Aurora (Lawrence)—as her name implies—will literally be Jim’s sleeping beauty. Jim wakes Aurora up, deceitfully pretending that she also woke up accidentally and since they’re the only two in their little world, they fall in love.
What Passengers doesn’t realize is that this isn’t romantic. It’s downright terrifying. With one decision, Jim turns from a likable castaway of sorts, into a stalker destining another human being into a slow, lonely death. Jim almost forces Aurora to love no one but him, because hey, who else could she pick?
This is just one of Passengers’ many odd choices that skewed just slightly, could’ve completely worked. Is there any reason why Jim has to wake up Aurora, instead of having them both wake up at the same time? Nope, it just adds an unnecessary level of creepiness. Plus, for anyone who has seen the trailer incessantly these last few months, Passengers offers a fairly generic and obvious order to its story that simple editing could’ve brightened up. Instead, Passengers passes in the banal arc that you’ll come to expect.
At the very least, Tyldum and cinematographer Rodrigo Pierto can make this world look gorgeous, creating a futuristic ship that looks like it could exist in the near future. But it’s Spaihts screenplay, with its eery idea of romance and terrible dialogue that makes Passengers unbearable. This film is filled with eye-roll worthy gems like “we’re on a sinking ship and we can’t get off!” or “I just wanted give you more space.” Almost every attempt at cheesy one-liners or punny humor falls flat. By the time Spaihts tries to throw in some third-act curveballs, Passengers has already lost all its goodwill, only to end with a bland conclusion and further silliness.
On paper, Passengers couldn’t be more of a sure thing. But in practice, Passengers is a mess of terrible ideas, problematic thinking, and stupid cliches. Truly it is a sinking ship, and no one can get off.