If the title of this post has not sufficiently convinced you to avoid Passengers and not waste roughly two hours of your life that you’ll never get back, then feel free to keep reading, but be warned. This review is riddled with spoilers.
The premise of Passengers is a little convoluted to begin with. Chris Pratt is a passenger on a space ship called the Avalon that is headed to Homestead II, a new planet that will be colonized and populated by the Avalon’s roughly 5000 passengers and crew. The entire journey takes 120 years, so everyone is frozen in pods until one month before their arrival. However, a run-in with some asteroids (or something) causes a glitch in the system that pops open Pratt’s pod – and only Pratt’s pod—after only 30 years. So now, Pratt has to face the reality of living and dying on this ship, completely alone, while 4999 other people rest comfortably awaiting their scheduled arrival on Homestead II.
Before I even get into the creepiness that is to follow in the film, let me stop and comment on Pratt’s existence on this ship. I find it very hard to believe that the Avalon, which is not supposed to see human beings wandering about for another 90 years, would have all the activities and amenities that Pratt needs available to him, complete with robots who can serve him meals, holograms that can play basketball with him, and a friendly robot bartender that can make him some killer drinks and engage in witty banter. How is it that all these things are operational, but he can’t access anyone in the crew? How is it that none of the robots or computers understand what is happening to Pratt? None of that makes any sense! But as with any science fiction movie, perhaps it’s best not to think too long and hard about the practicality and plausibility of such things…
So Pratt has been all alone for about a year, and he begins to fixate on one of his fellow passengers. He sees a pretty blonde woman (Jennifer Lawrence) resting in her pod, and he becomes obsessed. He looks up her file and reads up on her, finding that she is a writer who is looking for adventure so she will have exciting experiences that will serve as inspiration for her writing. He decides that they’re soul mates, so he grapples with whether he should wake her up, which would completely ruin her life, but at least he wouldn’t be alone. Eventually, he decides to open her pod and wake her up, which is a fucked up thing to do. She thinks her awakening was an accident, so she naturally falls in love with Pratt. Until she finds out what he did to her; then she hates him. Until he almost dies; then she loves him again? And then it becomes a sweet romance, because we’re all supposed to forget that he stalked her and took away all of her life choices?!
So therein lies my biggest problem with this movie. It had potential to be a really dark and disturbing film, but it waters down all the potential darkness with a forced and, frankly unbelievable, love story. I wish the movie would have just GONE THERE. If Passengers was going to be a movie about a man who obsessively stalks and destroys this woman, why not just go the psychological thriller route? On the other hand, if the movie wanted to be a romance, then it should have just gone there. Though I probably would have gravitated more toward a psychological thriller, I think Passengers also would have been much more successful if it had been a straight-forward romance about two people who cling to each other in troubled times. What we end up with instead with Passengers is a tepid, muddy mess.
Interestingly enough, the best moments in Passengers remind me of the best moments in Wall-E. I really liked Wall-E, but I wasn’t thrilled with the movie once the robot interacted with all those sloppy, lazy people. Wall-E was at its best when it was just about the robot discovering its surroundings. I loved watching Wall-E find little remnants of humanity in discarded items, giving each of the little things he finds a creative new use and a new life. Similarly, the best scenes in Passengers, in my humble opinion, are all about Chris Pratt navigating his own isolation and loneliness. I love Jennifer Lawrence, but once she showed up, the movie suffered. I suppose that means that Passengers had yet a third possibility for a more interesting concept: Cast Away in space.
Ultimately, Passengers is a film that tried to be too many things, and unfortunately ended up missing the mark on all counts. It had potential to tell a really compelling story, but it didn’t have the guts to meet its own potential.