Merry Christmas everyone. And what would Christmas be without a gift of a movie review from me? Well, honestly, it would pretty much just be Christmas. I don’t even know that i’ve ever written a movie review for Christmas before. But whatever. Steph and I saw Passengers on Christmas Eve, so I’m doing it.
Before I say anything else I’m going to give my rating for the film right up front, something I usually don’t do: ★★½☆☆ (2.5 out of 5 stars). Usually, I try to write these reviews without spoilers. It’s hard to do that this time, because the majority of the movie is based on a twist that isn’t in the trailers. I always try to avoid details from other reviews before I see a movie because I don’t want my opinion prejudiced. I was somewhat excited by the commercials and trailers for this film and I was kind of surprised to see it getting panned in the numbers. At the time I am writing this, it is sitting at a 32% on RottenTomatoes. A lot of people are hitting it pretty hard. I read and watched a couple reviews after I saw it and I will say that a lot of the critics are being overly harsh. I’ve seen people put it all the way down at one star. It’s not that bad. If you saw the trailer and you said to yourself “oh my god, a sci-fi love story with my favorite current Hollywood hearthrob A-listers Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. I want to go see them be pretty together and then maybe do some CGI space shit!” Well, you’re going to get that. They’re in it. They’re pretty and there is CGI space shit. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll be happy. They’re both there. They’re both pretty. There is CGI space shit. And frankly, all of that is fine. The film delivered on everything that it promised in the trailer.
The problem is that there isn’t much more. And there should have been. There really could have been. There are like three (really four) different directions they could have gone. Some of them would have been better than others but any of them would have been fine. But instead of picking one, they chose to try and hit on all three and ended up missing the mark on all of them. And that’s where the problems start. They necessarily call attention to the very problematic spoiler twist, which I’m going to discuss now. So if you care about such things, stop reading. But really, it’s not that big a deal. In fact, two “non-spoiler” reviews I’ve read so far reveal the twist because they don’t seem to get that it’s a spoiler and just consider it part of the premise. The movie doesn’t even think it’s a big deal because it tells you the twist VERY early on, And that’s where the problems begin. So…
As I said, this isn’t really one movie. It’s three movies superglued together. A sci-fi drama, a sci-fi romance and a sci-fi action thriller. In that order. Each of the three acts is completely tonally different and that is probably the main problem with the film. Any of the three could have been built into a strong and complex story that would have been better than what we got. There are also a couple of hints towards a sci-fi horror stalker thriller that could have happened, but doesn’t. Instead, we end up with this weird mishmash of stuff and while it’s not actively bad (so long as you don’t think too hard… you know, like I’m doing here), it is unsatisfying because the ways in which it could have been better are readily apparent even while you’re watching it.
So the trailer doesn’t make it super-obvious, but it was something that I was actually guessing might be the twist. Jennifer Lawrence’s character (Aurora) doesn’t actually wake up from hibernation at the same time as Chris Pratt’s character (Jim). I guess to some people this was obvious because he seems to see her later in the trailer. But the “twist” such that it is, is that she not only wakes up later but that she only wakes up because Jim wakes her up. The inciting incident of the film sees the spaceship (The Avalon) running into a meteor shower which damages Jim’s hibernation pod, causing him to wake up 30 years into the 120 year journey that the ship is on. The rest of the first act of the movie is then essentially Castaway in space, where the part of Wilson, the volleyball is played by Michael Sheen as a semi-sentient robot bartender named Arthur. While Arthur is better at responding to Jim than an inanimate volleyball, he is confined to the bar and his lack of true human emotion only goes so far at placating Jim’s need for companionship. Pratt then does his best Hanks impression, spending a year learning how to survive (despite the environment being significantly less dangerous than the one in Castaway). He spends a year on the ship as the only living soul, grows the Castaway beard and tries a couple of doomed attempts to have himself rescued or refrozen before realizing that he has no way to go back to sleep and eventually begins to go mad. He considers suicide, and chickens out and finds himself next to the cryopod of a hot girl. He then amuses himself by reading all about her and decides he’s fallen in love with her. And after agonizing for a scene or two about how wrong it would be, decides to wake her up, thus dooming her to the same 90 year fate of solitude.
That is the first mistake of the movie. Up until that point Pratt had been acting in his own version of “Castaway in space” and he’d been doing a fine job of it for what it was. It wasn’t going to be winning an award. After all, Castaway already exists as a movie, and frankly so does the “in space” version (it’s called Gravity). But his take on it was interesting and kind of fun to watch. The problem is the sci-fi isolation drama just suddenly ends after the first act of the movie and it becomes something else. A sci-fi romance. Between Pratt and and Lawrence.
And that makes it confusing. Now to be fair to Lawrence, she is good in this too. Not as good as Pratt, but that’s because the Aurora character is just not as complex as the Jim character. She doesn’t have quite as much screentime and doesn’t really have much to do. Furthermore the complexity of the love story is hurt by the fact that as viewers WE already know Jim is responsible for waking Aurora up, even if she doesn’t. If we didn’t know then it could have been a lovely romance that is ruined by the complication that secretly the man is responsible for ruining the woman’s life. This would have worked out really well if the reveal had been saved until the end of the second act and WE as viewers found out WITH her. This is apparently what happened in the original script.
Instead, however, we are given a good 15 minutes at the end of the first act to watch Jim agonize over whether or not to wake Aurora. And then deciding to do it, even though he knows that it’s wrong. A better movie might have spent more time on this. If we know that he’s dwelling over this and then he doesn’t decide to wake her til the end, there might have been something in watching this man descend into madness and then reaching out and doing a deplorable thing. But there’s no real drama in the decision. As viewers, we’ve seen the trailer. We know she wakes up. Jennifer Lawrence in on the poster. In fact, her name comes before Pratt’s. And there is no way in hell, they paid Jennifer Lawrence level money to just have her character lay there asleep the entire movie, so instead the film feels like it needs to wake her up as soon as possible to justify her box office draw. And that’s just not enough drama to make me FEEL like Pratt had gone mad enough to effectively doom this other person. And certainly not long enough to forgive him.
And that’s the crux of the problem with the second act. The love story. If we didn’t know that Jim was responsible for waking Aurora, then we might have been able to spend that third of the movie in suspension of disbelief. It would be Blue Lagoon. It would be a romantic, if predictable, story about two people who found love because they were the only two people in their world. I mean, that trope is always problematic. It’s ever about True Love, really. It’s about having sexual needs and nowhere else to focus them. But it could have been that. It could have been nice. And then, if the rug is pulled out from under us at the end of the second act and we find out he is responsible, then suddenly we have a massive game changer. A twist. We have drama.
But, since we know all along, it doesn’t feel real. I can’t become invested in the love story because I know that it began with a horrible and deplorable act. Instead of Blue Lagoon, we now have a story about Stockholm Syndrome. Everything that happens during the love story has this little extra bit of creep factor to it. And it doesn’t feel like it’s supposed to. It feels like the filmmakers want to give us this lovely romance, but I’ve been robbed of it because the movie gave me the twist before it happened instead of after. And since it works, I’m left with the message that if you want to fuck Jennifer Lawrence all you have to do is kidnap her on a 90 year voyage that she can’t get off of and she’ll totally fuck you out of boredom. And hey… I mean, I’d love to fuck Jennifer Lawrence… so I guess, where do I sign up?
The second act finishes with her finding out the secret. And since we knew already, the moment is robbed of any real drama. She gets mad and basically all we are able to think as an audience is “Yeah, you’re fucking right. He’s an asshole.” And there’s no real way out of it. The movie could have reasonably taken two turns here. They could have turned it into a horror movie, where now she is alone on this ship being stalked by a psycho ex-boyfriend and the only way out of it is to kill him, thus dooming herself to a lifetime of solitude. Or it could have continued the love story and had some convoluted way of making their feelings grow organically as they find each other again… because really, they don’t have much choice. Instead, the movie takes a third turn and becomes an action thriller by creating a deus ex machina in the form of Laurence Fishburne.
Fishburne plays Gus, a member of the crew who suddenly also wakes up, just in time to tell Jim and Aurora that there’s something wrong with the ship and it’s going to explode… because we need to turn this into an action movie. He then promptly dies of the dreaded disease of “I am the only black guy in this movie.” Seriously, it’s his only real purpose. He wakes up… explains the problem, gives the two white leads administrative access to the ships computer systems so that they can solve the problems and then he dies because he’s really no longer needed, and I guess because if he’d stayed alive, then Aurora would have someone else to fuck and not have to fall back in love with Jim. To Fishburne’s credit, he has maybe 10 minutes of screentime and he acts his ass off with them. The man gave it all he had. But he’s a plot device and nothing more.
This means that Jim and Aurora have to work together to save the ship (and the 5000 cryogenically frozen lives aboard) because they’re the only hope that anyone has. And when Jim almost dies in the attempt Aurora risks her life to save him as well. Because she loves him… what with him being the only person she’s likely to see for the rest of her life and all. So she does. Honestly, the third act of the film is absolutely the worst. It’s a feels convoluted and forced. Hastily thrown together in order to turn this into a blockbuster that you might justify a big budget for rather than a small scale psychological drama or love story. It doesn’t need to be there, and if anything it only serves to rob us any real resolution to the problems of the first or second acts. Aurora does get to make choices. She chooses to save Jim instead of letting him die. And later, when he out of the blue (in the last 5 min of the film) finds that he can put her (and only her) back into hibernation, she chooses not to go, because she loves him.
Of course she loves him! She has Stockholm Syndrome! That’s how it works!
And that’s really what sort of makes it fall apart. I actually kind of like the Stockholm Syndrome movie. It was interesting. It was dark. And one of the things that made this film work is that they actually addressed it. When Aurora figures it out she screams that he has murdered her. He has stolen her life. And she’s right. And that would have been hard to redeem. Maybe impossible. But I don’t know, because the movie never really tries. Instead it just seemingly forgets the issue and distracts us with a very quick and very formulaic action set piece to show us that Jim is heroic and Aurora loves him for it after all. Yay! The end! Don’t think so hard about the whole part where he basically kidnapped her earlier that was really interesting. Stockholm Syndrome works kids… so long as you have a good heart!
★★½☆☆ (2.5 out of 5 stars) So much potential… and pretty much squandered.