By Jack Dignan
When the director of The Imitation Game is set to direct a sci-fi survival story with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as the film’s two leads, you know I’m going to be there. That description is a guarantee that I will be heading off to see it, as it sounds like one insanely good time at the movies. Add into the mix the intriguing premise this film has going for it, as well as the decent but seemingly spoiler-filled trailer, and I’m sold. My expectations were high, as they should be for a film with this caliber. So why isn’t this film nearly as amazing as it should be?
Passengers begins thirty years into a 120-year mission to a distant planet in the furthest reaches of space. The 5,000 passengers onboard are all in hibernation, sleeping away until they’re due to arrive, where they’ll be given the opportunity to start a new life on a new planet. Unfortunately, one of the pods malfunctions, and Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) wakes up 90 years too soon. He’s alone on the ship, destined to die there, his only friend being a robot named Arthur (Michael Sheen). That is until Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up early too…
With just two (technically three, but Michael Sheen is merely a supporting role) actors carrying this movie, Passengers needs to do a lot right in order to work. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are the only two human characters in this film, and it’s up to them to tell a compelling story that can sustain a two-hour runtime. For the most part, they do. The two have excellent chemistry, but also the capability to create more dramatic, suspenseful moments. The film isn’t simply a romance in space, and they nail both the suspense and the romance.
For the first twenty or so minutes, this film is literally just Chris Pratt trying to survive. He’s the first to wake up, the explanation of which is not a spoiler but I’ll refrain from explaining it. This initial opening is so much fun because I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. It’s got the much-needed emotional weight and sense of urgency, but there’s also a lot of joy and excitement to be found, as one would expect when a film has Chris Pratt in the leading role. It’s expertly paced, things coming to a slowdown just as Aurora wakes up, kicking the plot back into action and creating a new level of investment.
It’s the first two acts that are definitely the best part of this movie; thanks to the ever-flowing plot that will keep you on your feet while also letting you sit comfortably in your chair. There’s certain freshness to the whole thing, and while I won’t discuss specifics due to the fact that it will spoil the only things left unspoilt by the trailer, it’s definitely an exciting ride, full of visual effects that flow seamlessly into the real world scenarios. The situations and the reactions of these characters aren’t always as realistic as one would hope, but for a fun sci-fi movie, they worked.
That being said, the later scenes of the film are far from perfect. A shocking reveal jeopardizes the plot, leading into an explosive, high-risk finale where anything goes and stupidity is at an all time high. The visuals in this third act are better than ever, but all the problems lie within the script. The characters are given nonsensical, out of place lines that contradict everything they stood for earlier on, and their emotional bond is entirely unbelievable. The personal connection to these characters is lost, replaced with big set pieces used for the intention to dazzle audiences, but at the cost of making a good movie.
The plot had so much potential to go for an unexpected, uncomfortably dark route, and it’s a route I would’ve loved. They could’ve done something that would’ve been both realistic and entertaining, but instead, they don’t. Instead, they go for a massive cop out of an ending that just makes no sense whatsoever. It’s generic and worthy of a groan or two, once again backtracking upon these character’s previous statements. This is not what they would do. This is not who they are. It’s a tame and underwhelming conclusion that left a muted taste in my mouth, which shouldn’t be in the case in an otherwise decent movie.
To sum up, Passengers is not as good of a movie as it should’ve been, given the cast the crew involved with the whole thing. The third act raises some serious problems, but for the most part, the film still manages to be a lot of fun, full of thrills, laughs and excitement.
3 1/2 Stars
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