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Film Review: Passengers

Friday 23 December 2016
Words Spindle

Like last month’s Arrival, Morten Tyldum’s Passengers is another sci-fi more concerned with human beings and their feelings than overly complex science and space itself. Passengers takes it a step further by throwing romance and comedy into the mix in an unusual genre blend. However, where Arrival was still an interesting comment on the human race, featured an intelligent and intriguing challenge, and a thrilling imagining of an extra-terrestrial species, Passengers feels like it never reaches its full potential, and is more silly than insightful. The premise is interesting; Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) a passenger asleep in suspended animation on a spaceship that is travelling to a new home planet, Homestead II, awake ninety years too early when the ship malfunctions. There are 5,000 passengers on board, as well as hundreds of crewmembers, but no one else has woken up. After a year spent desperately trying to fix the ship or resume his suspended animation, drinking excessively, and sinking into depression at the thought of spending the rest of his life trapped on board, he notices fellow passenger Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), and, desperately lonely, wrestles over the decision to awake her or not.

Despite the intriguing premise that could have explored the morality of Jim’s actions in more depth, it is merely used as a catalyst for romance, with Aurora, oblivious to the real reason she woke up, easily falling in love with Jim. This makes an uneasy watch, having seen Jim ogle her as she sleeps, basically cyber stalk her by logging into the ship’s database to access her personal information falling in love with what he learns about her, and eventually losing the moral battle when he decides to wake her up – essentially stealing her life – choosing her to be his mate. He never seems to feel all that bad about it either, even when Aurora discovers the truth. It’s hard to invest in their relationship because of this, even with the sparkling chemistry between Lawrence and Pratt. Instead all the romantic tropes the film indulges in feel mildly disturbing, like a sick game being played by Jim.


The characters are also a little underdeveloped, especially Jim, for we never really learn much about him other than he’s a mechanic who wants to move to the new planet in order to build and fix things. She is a stronger character, a smart and ambitious writer who planned to spend just one year in Homestead II to write about life there, before returning to Earth – and the future – to share her experience, and become the first human ever to do so. It’s frustrating that Jim has ruined her plans, but at least she makes good use of their time stuck on board, writing a book about the experience that will certainly be passed on to those who reach their destination. Lawrence is brilliant, supplying the role with plenty of twinkly charm and humour, but also pure devastation and raw rage at her fate. She ultimately carries with her performance.

The film certainly plays up its romantic elements, introducing the rom-com to outer space. I suppose this should make the creepiness not all that surprising; casual stalking is a pretty commonly passed off as romantic in numerous films. However, setting a romance in space and combining it with the thrills of the science fiction genre does redeem Passengers in many ways, as it is certainly something different. Ignoring Jim’s selfish actions, the romantic scenes are charming, and as aforementioned, the pair do make a magnetic couple. Although some of these scenes feel over done, the film easily moves from them to the more typical sci-fi sequences, and remains engrossing throughout.


It’s absurd the spaceship has no emergency protocol for situations like Jim’s, but this does create plenty of humour at the various robots’ inability to help, and there is real tension as they try to fix the ship’s problems and save everyone on board. The film’s visual effects are also stunning. A swimming pool that looks out over the stars – a real infinity pool – is gorgeous, especially in a scene where the ship loses gravity and the water swells upwards in a highly impressive visual effect. The film is full of spectacle, as Jim and Aurora make use the luxurious facilities and technology on board – from a dance-off game to restaurants with robot waiters. They’re hardly just stranded on a minimal spaceship – they’re living in luxury.

Passengers is a strange film; on one hand, it does feel like something new, an unusual blend of genres, but on the other, its creepy set-up, underdeveloped characters, and a rather unsatisfying ending means it mainly indulges in silly spectacle and feels superficial, missing an opportunity to actually explore the human condition.

Watch the trailer for Passengers below:

‘Passengers’ is out in cinemas now.