*Spoiler Alert! If you are avoiding spoilers, do not read further. You’ve been warned.*
After coming out of a movie with great reviews, Hidden Figures, we decided to take a risk and see a movie with terrible reviews, Passengers. I’m not sure if it was because of the high after seeing Hidden Figures or because, if you haven’t noticed, I really like stories about space. Either way, Passengers actually was not as horrible as I expected it to be after seeing many reviews online. Don’t get too excited, though. The movie still failed at opportunities to dig deeper and make Passengers more than a glossy space movie with a hollow narrative.
Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), a mechanic, wakes up after being in stasis in a pod aboard a spaceship called the Avalon along with 5,000 others. The Avalon is headed to another planet from Earth called Homestead II which will take 120 years for the colonists to reach. The problem is Jim wakes up 90 years too early, can’t access those in charge of the ship, and can’t figure out how to fix his pod so he can go back into hibernation.
Jim spends a year on the luxury starship passing his free time with all the amenities on the Avalon to keep him busy and only an android bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), as a companion. The isolation on the ship even leads Jim to consider suicide.
Jim becomes interested in another passenger who is in hibernation named Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). As Jim finds logs about Aurora and discovers who she is as a person, he becomes rather obsessed with her (yeah it’s an uncomfortably creepy moment) and then wrestles with whether he should wake her up from hibernation or not. If Jim wakes Aurora up from hibernation, she will have to spend her entire life aboard the ship without ever making it to Homestead II with the other colonists.
Jim finally caves and wakes up Aurora and then lies to her about a ship malfunction for the reason of why she woke too soon. Aurora tries to fix the situation and just like Jim, can’t figure out why there was a pod malfunction or reach the command on the ship. In the meantime, Jim and Aurora develop a romantic relationship and enjoy each others company until Arthur finally tells Aurora about Jim waking her up. As to be expected, Aurora is heartbroken and goes through all the emotions one would expect.
The Avalon begins to break down and the robots on board seem to be going haywire. Then Gus (Laurence Fishburne), a deck chief, wakes up due to his pod malfunctioning. He tries to help Aurora and Jim figure out why the Avalon is malfunctioning but ultimately fails and dies due to the years of his pod not operating properly. Before Gus passes, he gives Jim and Aurora an ID badge to be able to access crew areas and attempt to fix the starship. He also tells them to take care of each other.
Jim and Aurora figure out why the Avalon is malfunctioning. Jim has to manually vent a fusion reactor in the ship or the whole ship is done for, but this means he has to be outside where the heat will vent. That amount of heat will kill him and Aurora tries to convince him to find another way because she doesn’t want to be on the ship alone.
Jim vents the heat miraculously without dying and is left floating out in space after the force breaks his tether to the ship. Aurora saves him and resuscitates him back to life. Jim discovers there is one extra pod and gives her the choice to go back into hibernation, but Aurora chooses to live out her life on the ship with Jim.
Passengers succeeded in being visually stunning. The special effects and all the pretty space scenery is a fun spectacle. I’m a sucker for that sort of stuff. Give me some pretty stars to look at and I’m happy. There are really cool moments on the ship too, like a swimming pool which is placed against a clear screen so you can see the stars. This part of the film is fun to see.
The cast in Passengers do a decent job and all are big name actors, but even their talent cannot save the script. When Jennifer Lawrence’s character wakes up, the interactions and dialogue with Jim come off as a romantic comedy. Initially, in the movie, I thought I was going to be watching a sci-fi film with lots of flashy effects, but ok. I knew there was going to be a romantic relationship from the trailers but didn’t expect the humor of a rom-com.
Even with an iconic cast and flashy effects, the movie feels hollow. The plot has a wonderful opportunity to find meaning in human isolation, consent, and forgiveness but fails to dig deeper in the narrative of its characters, specifically Jim’s actions and Aurora’s response at the end to stay awake after everything.
Instead, the plot seems to try to patch things up by using Laurence Fishburne’s character, Gus, as a mediator. Gus feels like an afterthought and is in the movie for such a short time, it’s easily forgotten. Gus conveniently wakes up so the two main characters can now have the magic ID pass and fix the ship. It’s all too easy and feels like a cheap way to wrap the movie up. This also brings up like a million different safety issues that seem obvious.
I mean who goes 120 years into hibernation on a starship to another planet without any safety measures in case something like this happens? I mean really!? You can’t go back to sleep in your pod? There’s only ONE spare space pod? The ship’s crew can’t even be accessed? I know, I know. It’s only a movie but those issues just seem like huge glaring errors to me, but then maybe there wouldn’t be a story. I’m not sure.
The movie ends with Jim seemingly the good guy without any depth or real thought into his actions portrayed by the film. All is forgiven without much thought as well. The only thing I got out of it about why Jim should be forgiven was from Gus who brought up when a man feels like he’s drowning he will grab onto another even if it means the death of that person. It doesn’t make it right he says. Then to redeem Chris Pratt’s character he saves all the people on the Avalon and offers Aurora a working pod he discovers. It’s all a lovely and sugar coated happy ending.
Maybe Passengers could have been more of a success with movie critics and the movie audience if it found a way to portray some of the deeper themes in a much more meaningful way. Instead, it seems to take the easy way out without struggle of the morality of the actions of the characters being explored. Instead, the film focuses on the flashy effects and the superficial aspects of the relationship between Jim and Aurora.
When Passengers ends, Jim is the nice guy and ends up the hero while Aurora decides to live out her life with him. The thought that stayed with me after the movie is, even supposedly nice guys and heroes are capable of morally reprehensible actions if put into a specific situation. Unfortunately, Passengers fails to take advantage of the possible depth of their own themes. It could have been a really thoughtful movie if it had.
You probably want to wait on seeing Passengers if you haven’t seen it yet. Other than the famous actors and effects, it’s not very impressive or thoughtful.
Have you seen Passengers? What are your thoughts? Put your Geeky Talk in the comments below.