Passengers little more than romance in space

By Thomas Simpson

When a script is cast to development hell there’s a good chance that it’s never seeing the light of day. The writer is as well cutting all ties and moving on with his life, there’s plenty of more scripts in the sea. Occasionally though a screenplay will get a reprieve as has been the case for the Jon Spaiht penned Passengers.

Penned in 2007, Passengers later had Brian Kirk attached to direct with Keanu Reeves and Emily Blunt cast as the leads. Fast forward to 2016 and Morten Tyldum sat in the director’s chair with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence replacing Reeves and Blunt. It’s been a long journey for Passengers, but has it been worth it?

The Starship Avalon is transporting 5,000 colonists on an epic journey to a distant planet so far from Earth that the trip takes 120 years. Due to the time the colonists are suspended in hyper sleep, however a malfunction causes Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) to wake up prematurely. With 90 years to go to his destination, Jim realizes he will die alone unless he makes some difficult choices, most of all the decision to wake up a fellow passenger, in this case writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence).

There’s little build up to Passengers, opting to throw Jim into peril from the start and with him, us, into the story. There are few airs and graces to the film and as such there is no great mystery to the proceedings. There are existentialist themes at play but despite the vast playground that is presented, Passengers is a love story about loneliness and longing for human companionship.

Pratt and Lawrence have a good chemistry that allows us to invest in their relationship. Tyldum doesn’t explore any depth to their predicament and doesn’t leave room for any questions. Spaiht and he play it straight for the most part and presents a stripped down plot with little surprises or twists despite the setting allowing for something more elaborate.

There’s nothing overly clever about Passengers and while the levity of what’s on screen offers easy enjoyment, alternatively there’s little for audiences to sink their teeth into. The third act starts to drag and becomes overly schmaltzy with the conclusion never feeling truly deserved.

The first 15 minutes of the film are its strongest as Pratt explores the ship alone with nothing but an android barman named Arthur (Michael Sheen) for company. It’s in these moments that Pratt’s astro castaway is most interesting, and although the film boasts such a small cast, the addition of more characters makes everyone less interesting.

Passengers is an unpretentious sci-fi romance that offers little but delivers on its lack of promises. There’s no great mystery to unravel which makes for an uneasy watch even if the end result is unfulfilling.

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