Science fiction is a tricky genre. It encompasses some of the most passionate fans in cinema. When done right, science fiction can be a mixture of great action and thought provoking themes. With a director like Morten Tyldum and top notch actors, Passengers should’ve been great. Tyldum directed the excellent The Imitation Game and this is his first film since. Passengers takes two charismatic leads, and somehow is able to make them seem boring. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt have the chemistry in these roles. However, Passengers is great to look at, but its script delivers a mundane and largely dry film that never truly is anything more than a run of the mill space drama yearning to be something it isn’t.
Passengers follows Lawrence and Pratt as they are awoken 90 years too soon on a space craft heading towards a planet called Homestead II. Jim (Pratt) is a mechanic and he wakes up out of hibernation to find he is the only one awake. He soon discovers Auora (Lawrence). The two form a friendship knowing that they are likely never going to see the planet they were attempting to get to. The loneliness threatens their relationship as they attempt to find a way to survive, or go back to sleep.
Rodrigo Prieto is the director of photography for this film and it looks gorgeous. The visual effects are stunning and the film is certainly not short of great visuals. But it is one dimensional in that aspect. Jon Spaihts wrote the screenplay and also wrote this years Doctor Strange. The visuals are on par with other sci-fi films, but Spaihts script is lacking originality. Pratt and Lawrence are as good as they can be in the film. Spaihts melodramatic writing leaves little room for character growth. Instead, he focuses on cliche dialouge and plot points that we know how they are going to turn out.
Maybe it is my fault for watching the trailer, but there are so many scenes lacking the emotional impact they should have because the trailer depicts most of the film. We all know how the film is going to end just based on the progression of the film. The premise is interesting, yet the film never gives its central characters much to do or say.
Passengers doesn’t really seem to know what kind of movie it wants to be. It aims to be Titanic in outer space. What it becomes is a combination of a comedy, drama and romance film. It is fine to cross genres, most films do. The difference here is that great films that cross genres are able to keep a consistent tone. In a film like Manchester By The Sea that is shrouded in heavy drama, there are moments of levity and humor because it is dark humor that fits the story. There are some shreds of humor that do fit within in the context of this film. Most of it, though, is Chris Pratt attempting to dole out his style of witty, snappy comedy that doesn’t fit in with the tone of a drama, or a romance for that matter.
What we eventually build to, is a conclusion full of the usual tropes, with cringeworthy lines like “you die, I die” muttered throughout its noisy and explosion filled climax. Tyldum seemingly wanted this film to be a cross between a film like Arrival and more action packed sci-fi like Interstellar. The latter was able to balance heady themes while still having stunning action sequences. We expect better from a guy who brought us The Imitation Game which was on the best films of 2014.
As the year winds down, we get to see some of the years best. I would imagine this film was gunning for Oscar nominations with it’s release date. This film isn’t a typical late December release. Like last weekends Collateral Beauty this is an example of a studio not fully understanding what type of a film it had. Passengers is film with great talent involved, an intriguing premise and stunning visual effects yet possess a script that holds it back from being great. Also, not to mention there is a massive plot hole in the film that I won’t spoil, but you’ll know exactly what it is when you see the film. Passengers is just another entry in the world of generic sci-fi.