‘Passengers’ (2016) | Movie Review

It is really easy to get swept up in a Hollywood romance between two charming, beautiful people. Since the early days of narrative filmmaking, this has been a staple of the medium, and it is not going away anytime soon. Why? Well, we like beautiful people, and we like love. What’s there to complain about? The problem is the circumstances in which these people are brought together is sometimes questionable at best and on occasion downright horrific. Passengers falls into the latter category, bringing two people together that suggests, “Hey, give it time but Stockholm Syndrome can lead to great love.”

The Avalon is a spaceship transporting 5,000 passengers from Earth to a new planet called Homestead II. Everyone is in hibernation for the 90 year journey in pods, but a malfunction accidentally wakes up one guy, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), who has to live out the remainder of his years alone on this ship. After a year of going nuts by himself (with the companionship of android bartender Michael Sheen), he makes the tough decision to wake up another passenger, a journalist named Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), lying to her that her about how she woke up.

The real shame here is Lawrence and Pratt do have a good chemistry. I would like to see them pair up for a romance that doesn’t make my skin crawl. They are those classic movie star types you want to see in this kind of movie. However, the setup to this relationship grossed me out so much I could not look past it. Here is a guy taking it upon himself to decide the fate of this woman with the result being it was for the best since they were made for each other. It justifies this horrendous decision Pratt’s character makes, which is downright shocking. How can you possibly root for the guy to get the girl when he is forcing the girl to be with him?

Passengers

Because the screenplay hits all the classic romance beats, perhaps this just went over all the filmmakers’ heads and was seen as just another story beat and not an untreatable tumor on this relationship. Maybe they thought the charms of the two leads would get them over the hurdle, but they never could. Since there were ship malfunctions, I don’t know why both pods could not have just opened by themselves. Late in the film, another pod does open, so this is a feasible option. And if they still decided to go this route, you can’t make her finding out just another standard romance beat where we know in the end they will ultimately realize they love each other with all their hearts. Have it go to the dark places it needs to. Once you decide to do what they did, your charming romance twists into a creepy hostage situation.

The design of the ship is ripped straight out of WALL-E, though beautifully shot by Rodrigo Prieto. It’s a sleek and sexy looking film. Director Morten Tyldum does not have a style per say, but he has a competent, workmanlike approach to filmmaking. He does not have a way through how he works a camera to shine a light on this problematic relationship. He serves exactly what the screenplay needs him to do, and he does it. So, all of those issues just bubble to the surface.

Passengers was in trouble with its very core. The script by Jon Spaihts, which has been in development hell for a decade, has a central conceit you can’t shake the bad feelings of. Tyldum can glam it up all he wants, including the use of two people who could not be better suited to fit these classic movie star roles, but every smile, every laugh, and every gesture of love is tainted. If they wished to explore the Stockholm Syndrome baked into the story in any way, maybe it would be justified. But this isn’t that movie. This is a fun, Hollywood romp with a big action climax. Those should not make you want to take a shower after you’ve seen it.

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