Friday, 6 January 2017


Morten Tyldum’s last film The Imitation Game was a serious Oscars contender at the time, which makes it all the more weirder that his latest film Passengers seems to be stuck in Limbo - with not enough action and excitement to be a popcorn thriller and too-poor a story to be a quality drama-romance.

The colonial seeding-ship Avalon is transporting 5,000 colonists to the planet Homestead II, a 120 year journey that has the entire crew in long-term hibernation pods. After some strange happenings on the ship, two passengers are awoken 90 years early, seemingly due to pod-malfunctions. Mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) find themselves alone on the ship, their only other mildly charismatic company the android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) and no way to go back to sleep in the Hibernation pods.

Passengers does seem genuinely confused about what it should be. Its opening act starts off as you might expect a classic sci-fi blockbuster of yesteryear to begin, establishing the confines of the location and building a sense of isolation. It uses montages effectively and manages to keep the foot on the pedal, but after a key decision made by one of the characters - something pretty unethical that should have help contour their character development, but is shrugged off by the film soon after - Passengers starts to go downhill fast. It becomes surprisingly slow and bland, and beyond the first act there are no real twists and turns in the story as you might have expected had you seen the trailer. The agonisingly average story just can’t deliver on the hype Passengers tried to build through an intense marketing campaign.

With obvious homages to several Kubrick films and a smattering of others, Passengers doesn’t really have a personality of its own, and whilst Pratt and Lawrence should be able to deliver oodles of chemistry on-screen, the second-rate screenplay drags their performances down immensely. There were also a handful of blatant overacting moments from Lawrence, whilst Pratt is much more timid (see: boring) than in his usual roles, although you can tell that they’re trying to do their best with the mediocre material they’re given. Indeed, the most frustrating thing about Passengers is that you can tell there could be a really dynamic, well-acted romance in there somewhere - a sort of Lost in Translation in Space - if it just stopped trying to add in all the hallmark sci-fi elements that it doesn’t have the complexity to pull off.

If Passengers does have one redeeming feature, it would be its visual composition. As glossy and beautiful as you would expect a $110 million film to look, it manages to keep a leash on its many CGI elements which blend in near-seamlessly with the live action work. Whilst it doesn’t have a unique style, it does at least manage to suspend disbelief when it comes to location, a challenge that many far higher profile films often fail. The helical design of the Avalon ship is surprisingly cool and is integrated into the action in a reasonably satisfying way. Though ultimately these attributes can’t undo the damage of a poorly written story - or even justify going to see the film - they were at least present when the rest of film collapsed on itself.

Passengers has an interesting enough premise, and could have been a lot better even with subtle tweaks to the order of the story, but ultimately it's let down by an uninspiring screenplay and dull-as-dishwater characters.

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