Passengers opens with a genuinely cinematic sequence, free of dialogue and even human characters. We’re introduced to the Avalon – a hyper-futuristic spaceship which nevertheless still echoes 2001 with its sloping walkways – purely through visual storytelling. Jon Spaihts’ screenplay is at its best when he’s forced to find ways around the easy option of putting exposition into characters’ mouths, a problem that becomes progressively more prominent as each new character wakes up.
Passengers’ first act then, which shows events not even hinted at by the trailer, is strongest. Chris Pratt’s Jim wrestles with loneliness, the threat of insanity, and a moral dilemma. There’s a brief philosophical bent, yet Spaihts quickly accelerates away from this and begins a march through a swollen set of plots with jarringly distinct generic influences. Instead of the philosophical sci-fi it could have been, Passengers montages through saccharine romance to a race-against-the-clock thriller format. Fittingly, the Avalon’s striking design and spinning motion is suggestive of the intricate workings of a clock.
Like the Avalon, Passengers is far from shipshape. Pratt and Lawrence are charismatic leads, though Martin Sheen’s android bartender (an excellent piece of casting) gets the most laughs. Granted she’s set the bar high for herself, but this is a weak Jennifer Lawrence performance which sees her coast through an underwritten, clichéd role. The “happy” ending is Spaihts’ final stumble; you can’t help but question what happens next – not because you’re interested but because of the obvious plot holes.
Passengers is a sci-fi take on The Age of Adaline which ill-advisedly borrows deeply flawed plot points from Titanic. It offers an entertaining two hours but the characters fail to provoke emotional attachment, so it’s likely to fade from memory rapidly. The biggest crime is the utter failure to deliver on the first act’s flickers of innovation.
CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia
DIRECTOR: Morten Tyldum
WRITER: Jon Spaihts
SYNOPSIS: A spacecraft travelling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.