Passengers could have been a great sci-fi horror movie about people who go insane from the loneliness of space. It also could have worked well as a touching romance movie involving two people who find solace in being alone together.
Instead, Passengers tries to do both of those things, and the result is disappointing at best, problematic at worst.
Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is a passenger on the Starship Avalon. The plan was for him and the other 4,999 passengers (plus 258 crew members) to remain in suspended hibernation for 120 years on a journey to Homestead II, a new planet intended for human colonization.
The problem? Jim wakes up after only 30 years, alone and unsure of what went wrong. The ship's computers aren't helpful, and getting a message to Earth (not to mention getting a reply) would itself take years. What follows is Pratt's impressive take on the Castaway role. We see him go through the wildly varying stages of isolation on a high-tech spaceship: Frustration and desperation followed by unbridled romps through the ship's fanciest rooms and bits of entertainment with the fanciest of high-tech toys.
But because man was not meant to be alone, Jim's world comes crashing down. After more than a year by himself, Jim is depressed to the point of being suicidal ... until he meets Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), whose name is the most on-the-nose Sleeping Beauty reference you'll ever find. She joins him in the prison that is the Avalon, and as time passes the two of them fall in love.
Here's where things get complicated. And to properly delve into how complicated it is, we need to spoil something.
This relationship is flawed from the very beginning, not just because their dates are corny, because Jim wakes Aurora up. He develops a crush on her while she's still asleep, sabotages her hibernation pod and then keeps it a secret until (conveniently) she has already fallen in love with him.
He knows he's wrong. As soon as he does it, he looks like he's about to be sick with guilt. But a year of solitary confinement has driven him to his breaking point, and he makes the decision that he later comes to regret. Every bit of romance between the two characters (both sweet and corny) is tainted by this deception, which Aurora accurately compares to murder.
It's here where the movie could become a horror flick, and at times it feels like it is. Pratt as the creepy stalker that Lawrence's character can't escape from could make for a terrifying thrill-ride (especially given the range that both actors are capable of). Instead, there's still a major mystery to solve: Why did Jim wake up in the first place, and why do the ship's systems still seem to be malfunctioning? Instead of being an in-depth examination on the morality of Jim's actions, Passengers devolves into a rather predictable series of events that sci-fi fans have likely seen before.
There's a more interesting, more philosophical film buried under Passengers' special effects, but we never quite get it. Because even when the movie's characters are doing things that are wrong or that set a bad example for viewers, their actions are also believable. You can understand why Jim does what he does, and you can understand why Aurora reacts how she reacts (Pratt and Lawrence can take credit for pulling that off).
For as messy as the character dynamics are, the ending is too tidy. It gives into too many clichés, sequences of events are too convenient and the final scenes could have been ripped from another sci-fi movie (or starred completely different characters) without any loss in coherency.
If we treat Passengers as a lesson in morality, it utterly fails. Not because it argues that Jim was in the right for what he did (the film never makes such a claim), but because he "gets away with it," in a sense. He may not be history's greatest monster, but he also suffers few repercussions for his extreme act of selfishness.
There will be many who walk away from this movie upset by its ethical quandary. Others will say, "Well, that was another sci-fi thriller." As it turns out, when you bank so much on an interesting romance and the romance part isn't interesting, all you're left with is a movie that audiences would be fine sleeping on.
PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and action/peril. 116 In wide release.