Passengers starts off with an interesting premise that is not revealed in the trailers. But instead of capitalizing on its strong start, it peters away into science-fiction and romance convention. There are a few ways to look at how the script develops. It can be viewed as a sexist male fantasy. Or a big Hollywood film loaded with special effects, star power, and the standard third act heroics. I think the filmmakers were aiming for the later, but stumbled with resolving the dilemma of their initial set-up.
Here's the crux of the story, spoiler-free. The Avalon is a futuristic space ship on a one hundred and twenty year voyage to Homestead II, a colony created by a wealthy corporation. The crew and passengers are in hibernation for the journey. Thirty years in, a series of events leads to the early awakening of a mechanic, Jim (Chris Pratt); and a writer, Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence). The pair are in a considerable predicament. They cannot go back to sleep with ninety-years left to travel. As they come to terms with the situation and each other, they realize that their circumstances may not have been accidental.
I'll start with the good. The Avalon is pretty much a cruise ship. Everything is sorted by class with the gold members having much nicer amenities. The Avalon reminded me of the Pixar film, Wall-e. The humans are basically serviced by robots as the ship flies itself. In this sense, Passengers has probably painted a fairly accurate picture of space travel. Take a nap in a pod and you wake up bouncing around on planet Walmart. The visual effects and ship design are well conceived.
Jennifer Lawrence's foray into sci-fi had previously been in the young adult genre with The Hunger Games. In Passengers, she's dropped the crossbow and turned up the heat on the green screen. Her costumes are quite fetching. Chris Pratt is utterly smitten throughout, but still keeps his boyish charm. I couldn't help but wonder how Passengers would have played with a less attractive cast. But that takes the titillation out of the mix and definitely doesn't secure a hundred million dollar budget.
Now let's get to the thorny side of Passengers. It's basically lonely guy trapped on an island with a goddess. You don't have to be a genius to see what the only guy and girl alone end up doing. Chris Pratt is certainly not the average guy, but he's playing that character. Jennifer Lawrence plays what she is, an incredibly attractive, completely out of reach woman. She's objectified here. I can see how that's going to rub some audiences the wrong way. There's a deeper conflict going on between the characters that could have led to an interesting conclusion. Unfortunately, Passengers skirts the issue and takes the predictable resolve.
Director Morten Tyldum gets a passing grade for Passengers, which arrives this holiday season from Sony Pictures. The first act was good enough to hold my attention for the entire film. I concede that it devolves considerably plot-wise. Feminists probably won't be fans, but most people are watching for escapism and not intellectual discussion. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are a likeable enough tandem. Passengers is the only science-fiction alternative to Rogue One at the Christmas box office. Check it out for a futuristic romance, after you've had your fill of the Death Star blowing people up.