Morten Tyldum's Passengers aims for Solaris and Gravity success, but comes up shortchanged as a film that's 2/3rds a well-written and competently-directed piece of science fiction and 1/3rd a typical Hollywood romance, full of cliches and lacking any real thematic punch.
Morten Tyldum‘s latest film Passengers is an interesting byproduct of both Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence‘s recent success. The film, which I’ve been told was greenlit based on their star power alone, is one that has a constant tug-of-war going on between its directing and writing.
On one part, you have a script by Jon Spaihts that’s full of curiosity and excitement, itching at the notion of loneliness and selfishness in a way that’s occasionally raw and honest, despite its creepiness, while also being sort of sweet and cute in a way that’s going to grab the attention of those simply seeking a sci-fi romance.
It reminded me a lot of Steven Soderbergh‘s Solaris and Alfonso Cuaron‘s Gravity at times, often blending together the idea of love and its bottomless and forever deep feeling with the notion of space and its vast nothingness that’s equally deep.
On the other hand, you have a film that’s directed with an almost uninterested eye, rarely focusing on the details or the moments in a film that make you truly engage with the material, instead settling for presenting something that looks high-tech and feels about as approachable as a Hershey’s chocolate bar.
It’s going to be incredibly difficult discussing a bulk of the film without diving into extreme spoilers, so I’m simply going to paint a vague picture for you based on how the trailer reveals the film.
Chris Pratt‘s Jim Preston and Jennifer Lawrence‘s Aurora Lane are both accidentally woken up due to a sleep pod/chamber malfunction. Suddenly, they realize that they are the only two souls aboard a ship carrying 5000 people to a new planet. The tricky thing about all of this is the scheduled arrival at the destination isn’t for another 90 years, which means that they’re definitely going to be dead before arrival.
The trailers surround the film in mystery, questioning why they were woken up to begin with. I can’t exactly talk much about the film without answering some of those questions, so I am simply going to avoid them and try my best to discuss what I liked and disliked about the film.
Passengers is without a doubt going to impress a lot of people come this Holiday season and rightfully so. It is an interesting film that balances some hard sci-fi with flashy romance and it does so with two of America’s hottest stars, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.
But it also sort of ruins the film’s chances of being anything beyond just okay, because of its rather large budget, star power and studio expectations.
Jon Spaihts‘ script is golden. It smartly balances themes of hopelessness, desperation and love in a way that makes the story stick and the characters somewhat worth learning more about, but this all leads into an ending that’s as “safe” and as “Hollywood” as can be, which completely undermines some of the film’s earlier reveals and it does this by conveniently introducing plot points that require certain team efforts.
It does this because it’s obsessed with convincing you that you honestly like both of these characters, despite what they might have said or done to each other. There’s no real resolution, but you feel like there was one after having seen the film, because the writing just sort of forces these emotions and feelings onto you in a way that feels artificial.
Morten Tyldum‘s direction doesn’t exactly make matters better either. He shoots the film with an eye that doesn’t seem the least bit interested in exploring these characters any deeper than Character A and Character B. There’s a barrier in between what is happening in the film and what we are supposed to be feeling, which makes Passengers feel somewhat dry, despite still being an approachable watch that is most-likely going to cater to the crowd that’s attracted by it.
This spills onto Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt‘s performances. Lawrence is about as interesting as a chewed-up dog toy, despite being described as this fun and exciting writer that’s trying to live out her dad’s dreams. She’s not exactly annoying, but I would probably strangle myself if I had to spend 90 years alone listening to her cry about how all of her friends and family love her so much, yet she still feels the need to leave them to discover a new planet only to turn around and go back. It’s a frustrating concept that I could not cling to.
Pratt on the other hand presents the film’s only conflicted character. His background is kind of a mystery, but his intentions aren’t, which makes Passengers a really cool concept. His performance is slightly restrained and suddenly Pratt’s usual energy and charisma is exchanged for Typical Hollywood Leading Man. It’s not that Pratt can’t fit the mold, but it’s that he probably shouldn’t. He’s so immensely talented and yet he just sort of does what he’s told in this one.
Their chemistry is good enough to at the very least understand their romance and attraction, but the film’s handling of some crucial plot points is questionable and makes you wonder just who the crazy one really is.
Michael Sheen‘s Android performance is hands down better than both of their performances combined, which is surprising and yet expected. Sheen is a talent that gets used perfectly in this film.
This review is shaping up rather negatively and I feel bad, because I really didn’t mind Passengers. I say that because while I enjoyed it, I also was thinking about how much better it could have been.
Passengers had the potential to be one of the year’s best films without a doubt. But it settles for safe and predictable, which is normally something that I’d shrug off, but with this kind of star power and writing — it should have been amazing.
I compared it to Gravity earlier, but only because of how it handles some of the space elements. I also compared it to Soderbergh’s Solaris, but only because of how it (tried to) handle loneliness and that feeling of knowing what you’re doing is wrong, but doing it anyways because of love.
Passengers is two-thirds a solid piece of sci-fi that manages to blend in a full-fledged romance between two more-than-capable leads. Visually, director Morten Tyldum utilizes the budget to make the film look and feel like a slick piece of futuristic cinema, but the film takes a hard turn into safety as it reaches its climax and suddenly Jon Spaihts‘ clever script becomes another neatly packaged Hollywood romance. Most will probably be okay with that and I understand completely, but some of us will always wonder if the film could’ve been better had Tyldum not directed or had the film been billed as a smaller production, with less crowds to please.