Ever since Jon Spaihts’ script for Passengers was included on the 2007 edition of the Black List – the annual list of the most popular, unproduced screenplays circulating around Hollywood – the sci-fi adventure has been saddled with high expectations. Various directors and stars have been attached to the film over the years, with the project eventually snagging two of most marketable actors in the industry right now, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, along with The Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum behind the camera. Passengers provides an entertaining outer-space spectacle with good performances by its cast, it falls frustratingly short on exploring the big questions that its premise seems engineered to pose.
In Passengers, Pratt plays one of 5,000 colonists aboard the starship Avalon in the midst of a 120-year voyage to the far-off planet Homestead II. A malfunction causes his hibernation pod to wake him early – 90 years ahead of time – and he soon finds himself facing the prospect of living out his entire life alone on the luxury starship. He’s eventually joined by another passenger played by Lawrence, also pulled out of stasis early, and the pair are forced to contend not only with their intertwined fates, but a threat that puts the lives of everyone still sleeping aboard the ship in danger.
The two actors hold your attention well enough in their solo scenes, and their fantastic chemistry together covers up some of the film’s biggest problems. Lawrence is clearly the more experienced, engaging actor of the two, but Pratt is no slouch – particularly when he’s given the chance to play the sort of quirky, sentimental rogue he portrays so well. Both actors seem perfectly comfortable bouncing between the movie’s tonal highs and lows as they deal with their characters’ fluctuating relationship and the greater threat developing around them.
It’s obvious that Tyldum and studio Sony Pictures desperately want Passengers to be a space romance, following two people from very different backgrounds learning to love each other despite everything at play around them and a deep betrayal of trust that lingers between them. Unfortunately, that lighter, fluffier romantic theme is given priority over some of the elements with more compelling storytelling potential.
Passengers feels like it simply doesn’t have the time or desire to explore the deeper issues promised by its premise and many of the most impactful, intriguing events that would ensue. Every time there’s an opportunity to dive deeper into the psyche of two people stuck in such unimaginable circumstances, it opts to take the easy route by shifting its focus to the romantic arc and opportunities for sci-fi spectacle.
Passengers tugs at your heart just as well as it captures your gaze, and Lawrence and Pratt make an exceptional on-screen couple. The beautifully crafted interior set pieces of the Avalon are nearly as impressive as the gorgeous outer-space imagery in the film. The highest praise for the visual design likely comes from the fact that the characters’ journey still seems wildly appealing despite everything we see them endure.