Morten Tyldum’s swish looking sci fi romp brings a twist on the classic castaway story. Channelling Robinson Crusoe, Chris Pratt stars as Jim Preston, an engineer on a one-way trip to Homestead 2, an interstellar Earth colony 120 years away from home. Due to a technical fault unknown to Preston, he is awoken from his hibernation thirty years into the journey. Kicking his heels alone on a massive spaceship filled with 5,000 sleeping travellers, and with only Michael Sheen’s robot bartender for company, Preston slowly begins to lose his mental faculties and becomes obsessed with Jennifer Lawrence’s sleeping writer Aurora.
It’s best to end the plot summary at this point as, fairly early on, the movie takes a somewhat unexpected diversion of sorts, teeing up the central ethical conundrum and narrative keystone.
In the early running, one worries that Passengers will do little more than coast along by throwing references to superior science fiction movies at the audience, relying on the previous good work of better movies. Within the first ten minutes you find yourself staring at winks and nods to Alien, Solaris, 2001: A Space Odyssey and, strangely, The Shining.
Mercifully, Pratt, Lawrence and Sheen are all suitably lively and fill the screen with some great chemistry and, for the bulk of the movie, you do find yourself enjoying your time in their company, despite a nagging ethical quandary that continues to itch throughout the course of the film. On the positive side, Tyldum’s movie is glamorous and fun, an outer-space romp with some visually arresting and occasionally breathtaking moments: Chris Pratt’s melancholy spacewalk is visual and emotional high point.
On the downside, Passengers has, at its heart, a moral predicament that never seems to be properly addressed.
Passengers explores the idea of isolation and the strength of human endeavour to overcome odds. It also skirts around the issues of manipulation, coercion and what is essentially kidnap. There’s a lingering sense at the end that the worst of these attributes, which account for major plot points, have never been properly addressed or that certain characters, who have contributed negative thematic and narrative elements never really get their comeuppance. After the credits roll, you wonder if you’ve witnessed someone getting away with murder and being applauded for it.
If this sounds cryptic then It’s an attempt on my part to withhold plot specifics that would ruin the movie. Passengers is stylish and exciting, and it hits the requisite number of dramatic beats. But at the end of the movie, put yourself into the shoes of both main characters and think hard about their actions and the consequences. If you feel that justice has been done, or that all the actions have been justified, you’re a more lenient viewer than I am.
[rating=3] | Chris Banks
Sci-fi, Romance | USA, 2016 | 12A | 23rd December 2016 (UK) | Sony Pictures Releasing | Dir. Morten Tyldum |Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne