Review: Passengers (2016)


Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in this schizophrenic blender ride of The Shining in space meets Fear by way of a romantic comedy; a ride that just doesn’t really land at all.

People love Chris Pratt. 2015’s Jurassic World is one of the highest grossing films of all time. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, largely due to Pratt’s everyday guy charisma. People love Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence’s performance as Katniss Everdeen is the guiding force behind what made The Hunger Games such a popular franchise in the everyday zeitgeist. Lawrence’s appeal was enough to make her the face of the marketing behind the last two Fox X-Men Films. Naturally, someone at a studio thought “Pratt plus Lawrence = Box Office.” Ostensibly, there’s nothing really wrong about star vehicles; Mr. and Mrs. Smith or Titanic are an example of one that works. However, Passengers, a misguided attempt to sell theatergoers a zippy romantic premise between Pratt and Lawrence, is a film that’s more akin to Castaway meets The Shining in space than it is in anyway to Titanic.

Pratt plays Jim Preston, a passenger on the Homestead ship Avalon; an interstellar cruise ship transporting people from an overcrowded Earth to a new off-world colony called Homestead II. The trip takes 120 years, so passengers are in a cryogenic storage pods for the voyage (not unlike Alien). 30 years into the voyage, the ship passes through a meteor storm in space which accidentally awakens Jim, who ultimately realizes he is now trapped on an empty ship during which he age, grow old and die before ever reaching the destination. His only companions are a bartender robot (played with aplomb by Martin Sheen) and a series of roomba-like work detail droids. After about a year, Jim’s inability to fix his situation in any meaningful way begins to bear down on him. Because he is a lower tier passenger, he can’t access people who could help him and his messages to Earth will only bear fruit after his death. As time goes on, he finds a beautiful passenger in cryo-sleep named Aurora Lane (played by Jennifer Lawrence) and his thoughts turn to freeing her from her pod so he won’t be so alone. Eventually, he does so, without telling her the circumstances of how she was freed and the two eventually form a romance.

This is where the film and Jim’s character should lose any empathy from viewers. Jim is driven to the point of suicide after a year of being alone; knowing that his life is essentially over. He consciously dooms Aurora to the same fate. The film’s script makes multiple attempts to handwave this away. From ship breakdowns that would’ve doomed the ship had Jim been alone, to another character (Laurence Fishburne) being accidentally awoken to give Lawrence’s Lane some pause in realizing where Jim’s head was at. However, the act itself is fairly indefensible, given how Lane’s only option is to eventually give into Jim’s apologies despite her despair or die with no human contact ever again. In many ways, she is his prisoner and despite the plot speeding along to make you forget that near the end, its an icky truth that doesn’t go away, even when an opportunity is made to give Aurora the life she wanted. She doesn’t end up taking it in order to absolve Jim at an attempt of giving her some agency.


Ultimately, despite cool visuals, the fundamental story in the film has that flaw which is hard to get past. It doesn’t help that Pratt has more chemistry with Sheen’s robot than he does with Lawrence’s Aurora; who seems more conceptual dream girl than real human being. It also doesn’t help that other movies dealing with cabin fever in space scenarios (for example Duncan Jones’ Moon) do more with the premise than this film ever really does. The class disparities between Pratt and Lawrence’s characters are used for a throwaway joke and a deus ex machine near the end, making Passengers an empty ride overall.