A holiday release schedule makes perfect sense for Passengers because this is a foray into science fiction that, whilst lacking logic, doesn’t seem to expect to be taken too seriously. It is a film that is visually impressive and entertaining enough while you are watching it, but pretty appalling in its message even with the most rudimentary analysis of what transpires. Set aboard the Avalon, a spaceship transporting 5000 hibernating passengers to the colony planet Homestead 2, the marketing material for Passengers posits the film firmly as a romance (which it most definitely is) without revealing exactly how our two protagonists come to be the only conscious inhabitants of the ship, and this is the most (perhaps only) interesting part. Certainly, it adds an extra dimension to the relationship that develops between Jim Preston (Christopher Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), raising moral and ethical questions that are never really explored with the depth that could have made this a much more engaging experience.
When the Avalon goes through a meteor shower and is struck, a malfunction of increasing magnitude is set into motion, the first consequence of which is that Jim’s hibernation pod opens and he finds himself awakened after just 30 years in space, with the Avalon not scheduled to reach Homestead 2 for another 90 years. He spends the first few months exploring the ship and unsuccessfully looking for ways to reactivate his pod but, with only an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen) to keep him company, Jim finds himself lonely and bored after a year, despite having access to all of the services, equipment and facilities (to cater to the ship’s inhabitants during a four-month period of acclimatisation prior to arrival at Homestead 2) that the ship has to offer. Whilst the real motivation for what Jim does next seems to be the fact that he is horny as hell, director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and screenwriter John Spaihts expect us to believe that his actions spurn from something far less unsavoury. Able to access passenger information, Jim delves into the life of Aurora, a writer and fellow émigré who remains safely ensconced in her pod until Jim decides to wake her up. The fact that he doesn’t choose somebody who might be of more practical use in identifying what went wrong with the ship and rectifying it tells us all we need to know about why he chooses Aurora. Needless to say, it isn’t too long before the pair are frantically fucking and falling in love; and it is somewhat troubling that Lawrence – one of the few actresses who seem to possess some genuine clout in Hollywood – would take on a character that is such a sexist construct.
Tensions flair when Aurora finds out that it was Jim, and not a fault with the ship, that brought her out of hibernation, but apparently somebody (an attractive white male specifically) can prove themselves worthy of love and forgiveness despite such an act of extreme selfishness. The fact that Aurora, when faced with the opportunity to return to hibernation, chooses to remain and live out the rest of her life on the ship with Jim, defies belief. I mean, sure the ship offers the best of everything – state-of-the-art basketball court, dance floor, cinema, restaurants with robot waiters, luxury suites, limitless booze and an infinity pool that provides some of the more impressive visual moments – but it is hard to imagine how Jim could possibly redeem himself in light of his despicable actions and we certainly don’t see anything that helps us understand exactly why she would sacrifice a future on Homestead 2 or back on Earth to remain with him.
For two performers who typically exude considerable charisma, there is a distinct lack of chemistry here between Pratt and Lawrence and when Laurence Fishburne makes an appearance as a member of the crew who is also roused from hibernation by the system meltdown, you can’t help but feel as though his terminal medical diagnosis comes as a relief when the alternative would be a lifetime with these two. Those prepared to overlook the inherent sexism of the piece will probably find Passengers quite enjoyable and there is enormous potential for something really interesting here, but unfortunately the end result is something quite contrived that fails to fully realise the potential of the premise.