The following review contains mild spoilers that will describe events that occur during the first 25-30 minutes of the movie (the first act). If you do not wish to read what could be considered spoilers to some individuals, you can skip the fourth paragraph.
Science fiction, as a genre within the medium of film, has always been built on ideas, either that reflect societal issues or political stances, or that ask audiences thought provoking questions about Life, time, space, and our own morality codes. Since Gravity was released in 2013, I have asked myself what I consider to be a rather important question with each new science fiction epic related in the years since: does this story break new ground, does it try something different, or have I seen it all before? In the case of Gravity, I came to the conclusion that the story didn’t break new ground at all, though apparently there were possibly some ground-breaking methods behind the construction of the movie. Interstellar broke new ground, presenting us with the theoretical concept of astronauts travelling through a black hole in search of a new planet to colonize after mankind’s way of life ceases to be a sustainable enterprise. The Martian asked what would happen if a man was stuck on Mars for 4 years, how would he survive, and how would we get him back to Earth, and showed us with a great deal of scientific accuracy, how this might occur.
Passengers asks us some pretty deep and dark questions, such as what would you do if on a 120 year voyage to a new sustainable planet, you awoke from hyper-sleep 90 years early? How would you deal with the situation at hand and the idea that you’ll die before the voyage is over? How would you entertain yourself? Why were woken so early? Is this how your life ends?
The marketing team behind Passengers seems to have struggled immensely with concocting an effective way to advertise the movie to the two audiences who would undoubtedly want to invest in this movie: the science fiction lovers, and the romance-comedy-drama lovers. It’s as if half of the advertising was attempting to appeal explicitly to men with images of thrilling adventure and mind bending physics, while the other half of the marketing was aiming for a female demographic by hyping up the romantic elements and using odd pop-rock music. You can’t sell a sci-fi epic simply off the star power of your two leads, so a delicate balancing act showcasing the thrill and romance dramatics was needed, but sadly never achieved by a lazy marketing team. Thankfully, the movie itself is actually perfectly fine.
Jim Preston is awoken in his hibernation pod on the starship The Avalon, which is transporting 5000 colonists who have volunteered to travel in hyper-sleep for 120 years to Homestead II, a neighbouring planet to our Earth capable of sustaining human life. To his shock, Jim realizes he’s the only person currently awake on the ship because something in the ship malfunctioned and woke him 90 years early. Jim spends the next year of his life becoming acquainted with android bartender Arthur, trying to fix the pod and even send a desperate distress message that won’t reach Earth for 50 years, enjoying some of the luxuries of the ship, and becoming increasingly lonely, bored, unhappy, and suicidal. During a drunken venture through the ship, Jim sees an attractive young woman in a pod named Aurora Lane, and begins going through some of her person a effects, learning she’s a writer and other intimate details. He becomes obsessed with her, and after a bout of indecision, makes the choice to tamper with her pod and awaken her in the hopes of finally having a human companion and possibly finding some semblance of happiness with this seemingly perfect woman.
The dilemma the movie presents, being awoken 90 years early on a 120 year voyage through space, is a unique and thoughtful concept, and it’s interesting to see how our two leads, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) grapple with this concept, and the knowledge that they will die before the voyage comes to a close unless they can somehow figure out how and why they were awoken so early. The actors do a great job of capturing the varying emotions and mental states their respective characters experience during the course of the movie, with Pratt working his trademark charm and sly humour, and even digging deep into some strong emotional work, giving us a performance that might actually be surprisingly stronger than his turn as Star-Lord in Guardians Of The Galaxy. Lawrence is every bit as charming and witty as Pratt, and even doing a splendid job with the more emotional scenes of the movie. This is probably Lawrence’s best work since her Oscar winning turn in Silver Linings Playbook.
Passengers doesn’t have plot twists that pull the rug out from underneath you, and even the real cause of the ship’s continuous malfunctions isn’t even that convincing an idea, or perhaps it’s just a lazy idea altogether, but that doesn’t make this a bad movie. The risks this movie takes don’t come in the form of jaw dropping spectacle or mind bending twists, but rather in the way the movie initially connects two characters in a less than desirable fashion. That this movie had the guts to bring the characters together in such a dark way and sustains that connection for as long as it does, and convincingly so, is worth praise aplenty. It’s really not the bad movie the Rotten Tomatoes collective are making it out to be, and while it’s not shocking or necessarily all that visually impressive compared against Interstellar for example, it is a perfectly fine movie. An unpretentious, enjoyable, entertaining, heartfelt, and thought provoking sci-fi drama, a voyage I won’t mind investing in again when the time is just right.