By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
Passengers has been billed practically from the beginning as Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, together at last!
What more do your loins need?
Who could have known that charisma the caliber of Pratt & Lawrence’s would be entirely necessary to sell the premise of this sci-fi romance? When your premise is “man on interstellar voyage who is accidentally woken from cryogenic sleep 90 years early and so doomed to die before arriving at his destination sees Jennifer Lawrence and decides to wake her up too, then they fall in love and save the spacecraft” you’re going to need all the star caliber you can get.
Indeed, the pleasures Passengers has wouldn’t be possible without Pratt and Lawrence, who both do, ahem, stellar work. Lawrence has to do more to make her character work, and fortunately is capable of far more, but Mr. Pratt largely keeps up with her and even finds a way to maintain that world-class charm despite his character’s choice.
Awww, who couldn’t wuv dose puppy-dog eyes?
The sci-fi environs and action are all slickly shot by Rodrigo Prieto, and Director Morten Tyldum marshals his camerawork, top-notch production values, and inventive design work to deliver some A-caliber Hollywood sheen.
Speaking of Sheen, Michael is also great as an android with a just this side of the uncanny valley air about him. Overall, Passengers is very entertaining- those the theater certainly ate it up, and not unfairly. This is a polished high-concept Hollywood adventure film with arguably the most attractive leads you can assemble. Strange it has done so poorly financially.
Passengers initially looks like it’s tackling the extreme thorniness of the ethical issue in its very premise pretty well. Lawrence prison-jumping Pratt is wholly deserved and appropriately brutal, and the central question posed isn’t as black and white as folks always like their ethical dilemmas to be. If it was, it wouldn’t be a dilemma.
As the film poses, ‘If you were stranded on a desert island and could wish any person to join you there, with the understanding that will also strand them, would you?’ The better question, honestly, is ‘How long could you last until you did so?’
As long as I have my glasses…
Then, without spoiling it, screenwriter Jon Spaihts sort of lets Pratt off the hook, or creates a mouthpiece to, anyway. Lawrence sells it all better than it deserves to be sold, but honestly the film should have continued down the same vein it was going instead of taking the slight surprise detour it does, which pushes the film all the way into:
Save everyone Hollywood Armageddon crap, complete with nonsense science, big CGI explosions, and leading man self-sacrifice feinting that nobody but the most inexperienced of movie watchers would fall for. Again, this is all done very entertainingly and sharply, but is a bit of a rope-a-dope move for a film previously examining a legitimately interesting ethical quandary. This is big budget syfy, not sci-fi.
The ending is dumb. It introduces one more interesting choice, then completely evades it. There’s no reason to introduce it at all if you aren’t going to grapple with it in anything but the most rushed, cliched, and off-puttingly self-assured of ways.
And they forgot everything bad and lived happily ever after. Yay!
Passengers is a thorny idea that could have been tackled in so many more interesting or even responsible ways, but the way it is still entertains.
Passengers (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever the ship’s system shows some sort of malfunction
Take a Drink: whenever you see a robot (not android)
Take a Drink: for every swim
Take a Drink: whenever Pratt or Lawrence have one
Take a Drink: whenever a character’s in zero gravity
Do a Shot: for bad justifications for complex decisions