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Passengers (Chris Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence) - Review

Passengers

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

CHRIS Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence provide an engaging central presence in Passengers but even their chemistry isn’t enough to prevent this romantic sci-fi drama from underwhelming.

Directed by Morten (The Imitation Game) Tyldum from a script by Jon Spaihts, the main problem with the film is its consistent failure to maximise the opportunities posed by some of its more intriguing ideas.

Hence, rather than opt for anything ethically challenging, Passengers goes for a ‘Hollywood’-style approach to proceedings, which negates much of the film’s tension, deprives it of any real intelligence and feels too sugar-coated by half.

The story picks up 30 years into a 120-year journey to colonise a new world, Homestead II, as everyman engineer Jim Preston (Pratt) awakens to find himself alone with 90 years still left to travel. The 12 lonely months that ensue bring him to the brink of suicide until he stumbles upon beautiful blonde writer Aurora (Lawrence), whom he resolves to wake up in a desperate desire for companionship.

And things turn out great at first, once Aurora has gotten over her own feeling of despair at having been awoken. The two become friends and, eventually, lovers. But it’s only a matter of time before Aurora discovers the truth about her awakening, added to which the spaceship their travelling on also seems to be critically malfunctioning.

Given the potential in Tyldum’s film, it’s all the more frustrating to find that it ultimately fails to leave a bigger impression. But every time the story approaches a dramatic high-point, it opts to take the safest route.

Hence, any early agonising that Jim does over whether to wake Aurora is quickly dispensed with, as is the moral and ethical complexity of whether his selfish act can be forgiven. Sure, there’s some agonising on the part of Lawrence’s character but it feels token at best, jettisoned in favour of a more effects-heavy spaceship in peril finale in which both characters must do the right thing and potentially sacrifice themselves.

But even during those climactic events, there’s a curious lack of tension, with the peril never really feeling that dangerous (perhaps because the film’s marketing has already given too much away), nor the emotions that conflicted. The film feels a little too pre-destined to hurtle towards a happy place, steadfastly refusing to take any real risk even when posing one final question for its two main protagonists.

In a year when a film like Arrival raised the bar for what can be achieved technically and emotionally within the sci-fi genre, and even Star Wars Rogue One took risks with the fate of its characters, this feels way too pedestrian and safe.

That being said, Passengers is made watchable throughout by Pratt and Lawrence, who strike some nice sparks off each other, while Michael Sheen also adds a few nice touches as a robot barman – although one suspects, again, there was a lot more fun to be had with the character and its own potential arc had the script been willing to take a few more risks.

The effects, as we’ve come to expect, are impressive, not least a zero gravity sequence in a swimming pool.

But overall Passengers flatters to deceive. It’s an attractive proposition, populated by attractive leads, that nevertheless still leaves you yearning for something deeper and more emotionally engaging. In that regard, it has to rate as a disappointment.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 116mins
UK Release Date: December 21, 2016