REVIEW: ‘Passengers’ captivates at first, falters in final act

Passengers may end up being one of those films sci-fi fans and collectors buy just to have.

They’ll buy it because the love the film’s leads from other films and their on-screen chemistry in this film.

They’ll buy it because the film’s visuals are of the quality that cinephiles crave to show off their high-end TVs.

But they won’t buy it for the film’s story. Sadly, the plot of Passengers fails to live up to its promise, and does a disservice to the fine work of cast and crew.

Is it terrible? Not entirely. But it’s not what it could have been, and that’s the ultimate disappointment.

What’s it about?

Mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) were just two of 5,000 passengers on a starship heading to a new life on a distant colony world. As the trip was set to take 120 years, they, like all the others, were “asleep” in a pod set to wake them four months before arrival.

The two, however, finds themselves in deep trouble when their pods wake them 90 years early. Unable to get back into hibernation, access the crew in their sleeping pods or contact anyone outside of the ship, they find themselves alone.

Very, very alone, potentially for the rest of their lives.

As they acclimate to their situation, the two strangers bond and begin a relationship. What looked like a terrible end to their lives starts to look more promising, thanks to love, laughter, and an enormous ship full of comforts they have all to themselves.

Except not everything is what it appears to be. There are reasons why they woke up the way they did, reasons that become a ticking time bomb threatening not only their bond, but also their survival.

Passengers one-sheet

Characters, setting well conceived

Passengers is visually striking from the start. Director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas (Inception) conceive and deliver a beautiful yet believable vision of what long-term space travel and colonization might look like.

There’s also plenty of thought in the script regarding how a situation like this might affect people. The emotional and psychological effects of the scenario should be and are thought provoking.

In essence, the film attempts to prompt the question “What would you do?” in the minds of audiences. At least in the early going, it’s successful.

That success is due in no small measure to the film’s leads. Lawrence and Pratt create a very enjoyable on-screen chemistry together, but much of the script calls for them to deliver powerful emotional moments in solitude.

Pratt in particular is impressive in the film’s first act, delivering considerable emotional weight at times without any dialogue at all.

Plot doesn’t hold up

There’s a point in Passengers, however, when the ship runs aground. Arguably, from that point forward it feels like an entirely different film, going from character-driven drama to popcorn pot-boiler.

Perhaps screenwriter Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange, Prometheus) wrote himself into a corner, or the film went through extensive re-writes and re-shoots. Or maybe what audiences get really is what cast and crew intended them to see.

Regardless, that end product, sunk as it is by an all-too-conventional climax and denouement, proves to be an utter letdown. Had the ending showed as much thought and creativity as the setup did, Passengers might have been a new modern sci-fi classic.

Worth seeing?

For genre fans and fans of Lawrence and Pratt, Passengers may make for decent entertainment, at least at the start. The performers don’t disappoint, even as the story around them inevitably does.

There’s also an argument to be made for seeing this film in theaters for its spectacle. Production design and visual effects here are top-notch, and would be best enjoyed on a big screen.

But if those things aren’t all that important to you, wait on Passengers until it’s a rental, or just skip it entirely. You’ll save yourself some disappointment.


Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, and Laurence Fishburne. Directed by Morten Tyldum.
Running Time: 114 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and action/peril.

Felix Albuerne
Felix Albuerne
One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.