The science fiction genre has taken us to many places that humanity never thought we could possibly go. Yet, many of the crazy inventions have become reality, or are well on their way to becoming so. While the genre often gets a bad name due to the cheesy execution of the lesser contributions, some of the greatest films ever made are science-fiction. However, in more recent times, they have served as big Hollywood blockbusters to be released in the summer to make loads of cash, and then be soon forgotten about. Despite expectations and what will surely be a rough critical reception, Passengers at least does more than the typical modern studio sci-fi flick.
A spacecraft is traveling to a distant colony planet with 5,000 people on board to aid in developing it. When a ship malfunction occurs, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) finds himself awake ninety years too early. After being haunted with a year of loneliness, he continues to fear dying alone on this large ship, while his fellow passengers sleep in their chambers. He makes the decision to awaken Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), effectively trapping her in his same predicament.
Those who have seen Duncan Jones' Moon will undoubtedly find similar themes in the first act of director Morton Tyldum's film. Jim initially believes that the ship is four months out from his new home planet, as he prepares for what is called the "ultimate relaxation" in a humorous introduction. However, he soon discovers the truth that he has woken up far too early. A few jokes continue to find their way in, although this is primarily where Passengers takes a more serious turn. This is a rather captivating narrative that makes us genuinely care for Jim and the predicament that he finds himself in. His initial happiness in time alone with all that the ship has to offer transitions into crippling depression. Writer Jon Spaihts does an excellent job forming this character to be one that we want to see succeed in a matter of only half an hour. When he suddenly finds Aurora at his moment of need, he wrestles with his conscious on this question of morality. Even if nothing else, this is a central character worth exploring.
When Aurora wakes up, Jim receives a beacon of hope that he could handle living the rest of his days on this ship. This is where the film makes a turn for its more romantic elements, while hinting at more problems that the spacecraft is experiencing. This portion of the film can be more seen as a montage than anything else, as the two quickly discover that they get along quite well. While she initially goes through some of the same stages of denial as Jim, they ultimately begin to enjoy life together. She isn't quite as well-drawn as the lead, although we genuinely believe the connection that develops between them. However, not all of the drama between them is nearly as effective as what has been conveyed up to this point. It all begins to feel a bit too obvious, as the moral gray area displayed previously has been abandoned. Nevertheless, the conflicts that lay ahead remain to be consistently entertaining.
The third act shows its more action-oriented roots. The reasons for the ship malfunctions become more central to the plot, as the stakes become higher. However, this is where the film will surely lose some audiences. Spaihts' screenplay embraces Hollywood clichés, rather than exploring the more interesting character developments found in the feature's first act. While it initially introduces itself to us as a character study, it transforms into a space action flick with an overdose of cheesy romance that feels less genuine by the frame. The finale is ridiculously rushed, especially as it ties everything together with a bow and all. For a film with themes such as this, it's a bit disappointing to see everything cleaned up in such an orderly fashion. Spaihts had the opportunity to develop Passengers into a brilliant character study with heaps of imagination, although he settles for big action set pieces and a typical romance in the third act.
After starring in some of the world's biggest hits over the last few years, it should come to no surprise that Chris Pratt has made it to the big leagues. Audiences everywhere can be thankful for that, as Pratt is quite impressive as Jim Preston. The moral ambiguity found in the first act is portrayed in an excellent fashion. He still manages to deliver the charm that we've all come to enjoy from him, although he also develops a certain honesty that makes the film much more effective. Jennifer Lawrence also brings what we've come to appreciate from the actress' work to the role of Aurora Lane. While it's clear that the two actors are practically just playing their likable selves, it works. Their chemistry is effective until it isn't, due to the unfortunate turn in the third act. Meanwhile, Michael Sheen is consistently enjoyable as Arthur, who is a bartender android. The performances certainly aren't to blame for the feature's problems.
Viewers will inevitably make comparisons to Titanic, and there is no question that Cameron's epic is the better film. It's likely that many of my fellow critics will be excessively harsh on this sci-fi romance. As a film that isn't trying to get in on the Best Picture race at the Oscars, this is a fun time at the cinema. There isn't a single dull moment to be found in its two-hour running time, even as we reach its troublesome third act. Jim proves to be a captivating lead, especially when combined with Pratt's impressive performance. Those who want to take a break from the serious Academy Awards season will find joy in this one, even despite all of its issues. Passengers might not have you calling "shotgun," but it's worth hopping on board for. Recommended.