By Ethan Magee
A friend of mine joked on Twitter that the commercials for the movie Passengers (2016) make it look like it’s just about Michael Sheen smashing his head on a bar over and over. Indeed if you were unfortunate enough to view an advertisement for this film, that would be the only worthwhile image to remember, and not just because the set design was ripped straight from The Shining (1980). The rest of the trailers just feel like the movie’s shoving the attractiveness of our A-list leads in our face as they attempt to make rehashed sci-fi concepts interesting. What was this movie hiding from me? Was there actually some crazy twist or just a bunch of smoke and mirrors? Well without a doubt it was the latter, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how utterly terrible Passengers was.
I wouldn’t know where to begin with describing this disaster. The premise is just another retread of the “last man on earth” concept, with Chris Pratt waking up early from every hibernation pod you’ve seen in every Sci-Fi movie on a ship with a boring name that has 90 years to go to bring people to a new planet for the purpose of colonization. I was admittedly a little on board for this at first. “Where could they be going with this?” I thought. Nowhere. They go absolutely nowhere. You’ll realize during this portion of the film that Pratt’s actions, although realistic, are only so because his actions could be and have been applied to anyone from a Rod Sterling character to Kevin McCallister in Home Alone (1990). It’s why I keep calling Chris Pratt’s character Chris Pratt because he has no real character in this movie. All we know about him is that he’s an engineer and he’s immigrating for a job like nearly every immigrant ever. The writing is all plot based and completely lacks the pathos needed for a good story and interesting characters whose actions we could get invested in.
The introduction of Jennifer Lawrence into the equation doesn’t change this at all either. She’s only slightly more interesting than Pratt because she’s a writer who intends to return to Earth after living on the colony planet for a year, but she also lacks any emotion or motivation in what she does. Not only this, but the way she’s introduced into the plot is as forced as it is frightening and offensive. Pratt, after being on the ship for about a year, notices her in her pod still asleep and becomes infatuated. He watches video recordings of her for companionship and starts to ponder the all too real decision of waking her up, dooming her to the same fate of life on the spaceship. Once again, we don’t understand Pratt enough to know what motivates him to wake her up. I suppose Pratt’s selfishness injects some much needed drama into the film, but the film is so poorly written that everything about his obsession raises red flags and their relationship throughout the entire film is awkward and uncomfortable. Thankfully, through the magic of the editing skipping random chunks of time, Lawrence develops what I can only assume is Stockholm Syndrome as their relationship gets more intimate and physical to the point where a compliment at the breakfast table is enough to make Lawrence leap across the table and jump his bones.
After the film’s midpoint is when the writing really craps the proverbial bed. I’m sorry I’ve been going on about the writing so much but this film is so vacant of anything remotely interesting that one can’t help but notice how much this movie fails at fundamental levels. There are some nice shots here and there, but in no way do i feel like I’m in space or feel taken aback at the grand majesty of the infinite void like in better Sci-Fi films, even when the characters are floating around in it. All the futuristic tech elements, including android Michael Sheen, are just a lot of the same thing you’ve seen in every other Sci-Fi, which you get frustrated with almost immediately when the film thinks it needs to fill the silence caused by Chris Pratt being alone by every touch screen thing he uses talking to him. It’s the most annoying thing in every other movie that has it and it especially is in this one. The careful attention to scientific accuracy when it comes to space physics is surprisingly nice to see though.
Even if you went to see this movie because you enjoy Pratt and Lawrence’s acting then boy will you be in for an unfortunate surprise. They seemed to not realize how vastly underwritten their parts were, or maybe they did, because their attempts to give charismatic, believable performances come off more as bad over-acting. They really try to sell the cheesy dialogue and few moments of suspense caused by the ship’s technology going haywire, and it genuinely felt like I was watching one of those parodies of Hollywood films that they’ll do in goddamn car commercials. I can’t believe I saw this in a theater. This nothing makes sense convenient as all hell for the plot writing, where Lawrence Fishburne gets written into and out of the movie in a matter of minutes just to introduce a climax for the characters to overcome. This movie made space boring and trees grow from nothing. I have a hard time believing the director of The Imitation Game (2014) and the writer of Doctor Strange (2016) worked on this movie and that I put more effort into writing this review than they did with this schlock.