Film Review: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in ‘Passengers’

Passengers Movie 2016 Chris Pratt and
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are passengers who wake up in the middle of a starship voyage in a romantic sci-fi thriller that begins promisingly but gets lost in space.

Passengers” is the tale of a lonely guy in space, the drama of an ethical conundrum, a love story featuring two of the hottest actors on the planet, and a turbulent sci-fi action-adventure — and for all of that, it manages to be not a very good movie. The two stars, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, are both intensely gifted and easy on the eyes, and the film takes off from a not-bad idea, but the setup is way better than the follow-through. The director, the Norwegian-born Morten Tyldum, made the accomplished WWII brainiac spy thriller “The Imitation Game” (2014), but he turns out to be the wrong filmmaker for an amorous space opera. You can see why when he stages a scene that’s supposed to take us out of this world, but doesn’t.

We’re on the Avalon, a corporate starship that’s shaped like a spidery double helix. The spacecraft, which is headed for a prefab interplanetary colony called Homestead II (in the future, it seems, off-world lands will become franchises for those tired of life on earth), is carrying 255 crew members and 5,000 volunteer passengers, all of whom are in a state of suspended animation and set to stay that way for 120 years. That’s how long the voyage will take. But two of the passengers get woken up early: Jim Preston (Pratt), a mechanical engineer who’s jostled to consciousness in his hibernation pod after the ship hits a meteor, and Aurora Lane (Lawrence), a journalist whom Jim deliberately rouses from her slumber so that he’ll have someone to keep him company.

The two have all the food, alcohol, and entertainment they could want; there’s a basketball court, a video dance floor, and an elegant if empty bar presided over by a red-jacketed android named Arthur, played by Michael Sheen like the chipper robot cousin of Lloyd the bartender in “The Shining.” But unless either Jim or Aurora manages to live another 90 years or so, this voyage is going to eat up the remainder of their existence, and they’ve got no one but each other to keep each other company. Since they happen to look like Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt (stranded in space, you could do worse), it starts to seem like things will work out.

They get to know each other and go on a “date,” at which point Jim tells Aurora that he’d like to take her to a place that’s “the best show in town.” He’s talking about a deep-space walk. The two don heavy-duty suits and, hanging by a tether, venture outside the ship, into the starry vastness, at which point you may flash back to other visions of flying human rapture — Christopher Reeve whisking Margot Kidder through the night sky in “Superman,” or George Clooney and Sandra Bullock (though they were just pesky colleagues) bobbing around in the awesome void of “Gravity.” In different ways, both those movies made your heart skip a beat. But in “Passengers,” the big romantic spacewalk is so perfunctory and visually rote that it’s about as stunning as a glimpse out the window of an airplane cruising over Cleveland. The scene is a harbinger of what’s to come, since the two actors spend the rest of the movie going through the motions of what turns out to be a flavorless and rather predictable fable.

Too bad! Because for its opening 45 minutes or so, “Passengers” is a reasonably cunning slice of commercial sci-fi, even as it overtly recycles the strategies of films like “The Martian” and “Moon.” When Jim first wakes up, he thinks the voyage of the Avalon is complete (the passengers are scheduled to come out of hibernation four months before the end of the journey). It doesn’t take long for him to realize, though, that something is amiss. He’s surrounded by chirpy holograms and talking food dispensers — but there’s no other live human.

The Avalon is like an abandoned cruise ship, and the movie serves up some witty tweaks of top-down corporate culture, like the way that Jim can’t order a first-rate cup of coffee (because he’s not a Gold Star passenger), or the fact that he can’t get through to anyone back on earth, because everything on the ship is programmed to stonewall you. (No information leaks out, even if your life depends on it.) The situation Jim finds himself in is a gnawing nightmare; it’s as if he’d been sentenced to die alone, in 50 years, of boredom. Pratt, beneath the jock sexiness, is a fine actor who lets his eyes dance with playful intent, and with a dash of panic. Jim tries to make a go of things, but after too many days of eating, drinking, and one-man hologram dance-offs, he enters his Jim Morrison-on-the-skids phase. The question is: Will he rouse a fellow passenger, 90 years before she’s scheduled to wake up, in order to save himself?

He knows that doing so is indefensible (it’s like playing God), but he also knows that if he doesn’t make the decision to screw someone else over, he’s going to go crazy. The way that “Passengers” forces Jim to weigh his choice, and puts the audience in his shoes, seems responsible enough. Yet that still doesn’t make it an infectious thing to build a movie around. Jim’s whole relationship with Aurora is based on a selfish and rather creepy act, as well as a lie (the implication that she woke up accidentally, the same way he did). He’s crafty about it, but we’re waiting for their romance to crash. Lawrence and Pratt match up nicely, because they’re such naturally responsive actors; they’re fast, with mutual radar. Lawrence, though a bit less vivid when she’s this blonde, gives Aurora a core of survivalist moxie. She will do what the circumstances demand. But can Jim keep his secret?

There’s only one place for “Passengers” to go, and once it gets there, Jon Spaihts’s script runs out of gas. That won’t necessarily hurt the movie commercially, since it offers the kind of big-star mashup that every holiday movie season needs. Tyldun handles the dialogue almost as if he were doing a stage play, but he turns out to be a blah director of spectacle; he doesn’t make it dramatic. (He does create one cool image, though, of a swimming pool freed from gravity.) There isn’t much to “Passengers” besides its one thin situation, and there are moments when the film could almost be “a very special episode of ‘Star Trek,'” because Pratt, with his golden-boy smirk, has a Kirkian side, and the voyage they’re on is grandiose yet amorphous (like the Enterprise’s). The ship itself has a variety of chambers and communal spaces, but it all seems overly familiar and sterile. What’s lackluster about “Passengers” isn’t just that the movie is short on surprise, but that it’s like a castaway love story set in the world’s largest, emptiest shopping mall in space.

Film Review: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in 'Passengers'

Reviewed at AMC Lincoln Square, New York, December 14, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 116 MIN.

Production

A Columbia Pictures release of an LStar Capital, Village Roadshow Pictures, Wanda Pictures, Original Film, Company Films, Start Motion Pictures production. Producers: Neal H. Moritz, Stephen Hamel, Michael Maher, Ori Marmur. Executive producers: Greg Basser, Bruce Berman, Ben Browning, David B. Householter, Jon Spaihts, Lynwood Spinks, Ben Waisbren.

Crew

Director: Morten Tyldum. Screenplay: Jon Spaihts. Camera (color, widescreen): Rodrigo Prieto. Editor: Maryann Brandon.

With

Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia, Vince Foster, Kara Flowers, Conor Brophy.

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  1. mts says:

    this feels a lot like a porn fantasy

    stranded in outer space, he chooses JLaw from 5000 passengers, quickly seduces her and has sex with her and they fall in love

  2. Bitch Trump says:

    You stupid motherfucker. There were 258 crew, not 255. And the movie was awesome, so eat my ass.

  3. Alan Parton says:

    wow… for me, I really enjoyed the movie, and no, it’s not a blockbuster, or something that will take home the Oscar, but it was a fun movie, cool effects, a good story line, a struggle to face doing the right thing, and giving in to loneliness, and the realization that you are destined to live out your life outside the bubble, while humanity is asleep, all within your view…

    movies are meant to entertain you, to whisk you away from your real everyday life, and deposit you into a realm of fantasy, and to, if just for a brief time in your life, allow you to disengage with reality, leave your troubles at the door, and sit back, relax, and just dream…

    all in all, there were things about the movie that I didn’t understand, but for the most part, it was entertaining, touched a part of my life of loneliness and despair, and gave hope that this poor guy, all alone in a sea of emptiness, doing what any desperate person would most likely do, and them then overcoming it all, and finding each other, and a life until the end.

    I’m going to see it again, and I especially liked how it ended and the closing music fit the scene perfectly for me.

    this is Castaway, Titanic, Gravity, The Martian, and whatever other movie that touched you, all rolled up into one…

    the pool scene was very cool too… and Arthur was a great character.

  4. SMS says:

    Owen, There’s no excuse for giving away the key plot point of the film. When is Variety going to fire this relentless spoiler they call a critic?!?

  5. Rena says:

    I think it is great movie. Entertaining, cool images, food for thought (about loneliness and such). My eleven-year-old was delighted with spaceship design. Didn’t even mind we accidentally saw subtitledversion with original sound, which is not our mother tongue. – A sign of a fine engaging movie for me.

  6. Kelly Waters says:

    I thought it was great movie. Your comments were extremely boring. Attempting to hold a percentage because they’re similar is stupid.

  7. Mike says:

    I don’t get it. The “film critics” from Rotten Tomatoes gave “Passengers” a 30-something rating. The audiences (32,000 so far) gave it a rating near 70%.
    I saw the movie, six times so far in just a week. Jennifer’s acting is superb. So is Mr. Pratt’s.
    The movie has depth of extreme choices of a lonely man. Betrayal of Aurora’s character. Love scenes, especially the kiss after the space-suit adventure outside of the ship. I loved the premise of the story. It is not the over-hyped Rogue One, which ended up being nothing but a heartless shoot-um-up fulfilling George Lucas’s dream of shooting lasers and destroying everything without much emotion. If his then-wife back in the 70s and early eighties, had not introduced the love-line of the princess and Han, Star wars would have failed miserably.
    Passengers was great. Romantic. Emotional and scientifically pretty accurate (I am an engineer).
    You “critics” can go pound sand on your reviews for this one.

    • Scott Posch says:

      Scientifically pretty accurate? Are you an engineer on a train? Because the science in this film is laughably bad. Virtually every science/computer ‘thing’ they did was ridiculous.

  8. SEZZO says:

    Could of been a good movie if they would have challenged the audience more with their twist reveals and eliminated a bunch of that cliched filler – like his bear growing & her jogging around the ship.

    It felt like a bunch of scenes from past movies over the decades were cobbled together with a super weak premise & enormous sums of money so that you can’t hate it, but can’t love it either :(

  9. joetisch says:

    Personally….I can’t understand …all the critics…..negative reviews….

    I just saw the movie…and thought it was great…

    Yes….”Castaway” in space….but infinitely more charming…. and of course…so much more exciting with Christ and Jennifer…on-board…

    I especially liked the part where the 3rd awakened person came…. that was a nice touch… and I loved how they solved problems…and ultimately dealt with a very difficult situation….

    I’d even like to see a Passengers 2 …which would be about their life together…. during those next 70 years or so….

    • Sadly a group of feminists boarded the Critic train and loudly complained about Jim waking Aurora. To add spice they claim that he ‘Raped’ her because he awoke her without her consent.. He ‘Raped’ her for having consensual sex with her before telling her the ‘Big Secret’. That Jim researched about Aurora to see if she could be a match for him was ‘Creepy and Stalking’
      How dare he ‘Ruin’ her life by waking her and condemning her to living with him.

      And the IMDB boards are likewise littered with the same protests. However I am sure if a lot of the complainers were in the same situation they would do the same or worst.

  10. Larry says:

    The better was better than expected. Great visual affects. Makes you feel many different emotions. Would have liked more substance in the ending. Otherwise, recommend seeing it.

  11. Sam Jackson says:

    The critic did do a spoiler but I saw it already so it did not affect me. That being said, I desperately wanted to see this movie. I bypassed Star Wars for it. What pissed me off is that it built itself up as being more than what it was, a space age love story and a chick flick. I was waiting for the sinister plot twist that showed how the evil corporation screwed over the little guy for a profit, like the trailer suggested. However, in the end, it wasn’t the case, simple system failure without any plan to address it from a complaint that made a quadrillion dollars doing business. I could have seen Star Wars. Then, you’re telling me a person pays out the ass to get on that ship but can’t get a chai latte unless they are a Gold Member. Yeah, right.

  12. I totally love the movie, especially towards its tail end. surprised to see some bad review on it…its such a terrific movie to see,

    • joetisch says:

      I totally agree…. I think sometimes…critics are too jaded…and forget what it’s like to simply enjoy such movies…without being so darned critical all the time..

      The critical reviews I read almost ruined it for me but when I finally watched it….it was so totally magical.

      space….the ultimate frontier as Captain Kirk used to say….

  13. Martin Arcos says:

    Loved it. I was totally immersed from start to finish. Could have ended several different ways. Highly recommend this movie.

  14. Peter says:

    This is an unfair review. I mean, “Passengers” is not perfect, but if this is a poor film, where does that leave “Interstellar”? At the bottom of an abandoned dump site? Or what about Gravity which was just a bit better than Interstellar? Or Martian?
    Passengers is far from a bad film. It is not perfect, but what is lacking is not essential. There is nothing like “shoot ’em up” or “Marvel comics to the rescue” type of superheros here.

    I highly recommend it, if nothing, for the drama, questions asked and performances of all the actors. Everyone was brilliant, and the film is really not as bad as some make it sound.

    ps. Read some parts of the original screenplay including the ending and I am glad to see that it was changed in some key aspects.

  15. James says:

    What is truly staggering is that so many people in Hollywood thought this was a good script, when any sane person in the real world could tell them how datedly sexist and skincrawlingly icky in its pandering to a Stockholm Syndrome setup it was. It could have been a good movie but only after major rewriting to make Lawrence’s character a real woman rather than just a male wank fantasy. But there is no truth to its writing in any degree.

  16. jonnyrp says:

    Please, start saving money for 2017. Who knows, there are and will be far better movies than overbudgeted, superficial romance flicks featuring overrated actors. With the exception of The House at the end of the street and The Hunger Games, which i never was into from the get go, everything i’ve been seeing with Lawrence (giving a chance to smaller films with more heart than Sci-Fi), she was clearly nothing more than cute. Surely didn’t deserved an Oscar imo.

    But, that may be just me. I wish they start making movies about characters and character actors a little more in the future (Even in terms of thriller, sci-fi and horror) instead of putting money on backgrounds and special effects, when a film is supposed to be romance oriented? Useless.

  17. Rudy Mario says:

    Disappointed to read this review. Was hoping for a nice thriller for grownups without any comic book super heros or toons. Lack of a decent number of good directors seem to be the proble. Another flop for Sony?

  18. shawn says:

    I knew the movie was going to be terrible when the trailer had to show sexual stuff like them making out about to get it on. Lawrence and Pratt vastly overrated anyways.

  19. Jacques Strappe says:

    The current 24% Rotten Tomatoes rating (along with 0% from Top Critics) should prevent at least some movie fans from not becoming passenger on this turkey of a movie altogether. Save your $12 and wait for it on Netflix.

  20. Lisa says:

    Yeah I stopped reading after the second paragraph. Some writers have no idea how to give a review without telling what happens in the movie.

  21. Ben says:

    Pratt is the most stupendously overrated and overpaid actor.

  22. John says:

    What? No lament about Jennifer Lawrence aging?

    • Truth is stranger than fiction says:

      No, but a crack about her being less effective when she’s “this blonde.” At what stage of blonde-ness makes a woman bimbo, Owen?

  23. Steve says:

    Jennifer Lawrence is completely overrated these days. I for one will not go and see this film, based on the fact she is starring in it. She needs to be humbled by her audience.
    Her arrogance/ personality these days is horrible.

    • kerzondax says:

      Little full of yourself. Maybe you need to be humbled by your audience. I for one AM a bit tired of her on screen but not off. I LOVE her personality and hope she doesn’t change.

  24. Nick says:

    I wonder if any of these comments are being posted by employees of the production companies and distributors, actor agents, etc. I’m guessing Yes. To those of you who are not employees of parties who have vested interests, don’t read reviews if you don’t want to know what the story is about. Or if you’re afraid somebody might offer an opinion you don’t like. Pretty simple.

    • kerzondax says:

      Yeah they do that a LOT these days for all films. Pretty easy to spot.

      • Nick says:

        Yep. I would be surprised if it didn’t happen, quite frankly. Actually, if I worked for the studio or was the filmmaker I’d probably be doing it myself. :) But there’s no question it does happen, and is likely happening here.

  25. Wayne says:

    Owen,

    You know from all the time you were at entertainment weekly that it’s prudent to but a spoiler. Are you trying to hurt the movies chance? It’s disappointing because I would have like to find out the twist on my own.

  26. Robert Dyke says:

    I can only add to the others who commented on the incredible disregard your so-called critic had not only for an audience but for those who create. What total ridiculous arrogance this character has in thinking nothing of ruining a viewing experience for literally millions. I believe I’ll sum up by simply saying, “what a jerk!”

  27. Nick says:

    Good to hear a critic who isn’t afraid to give an honest opinion. Maybe the other clowns on this thread will realize it’s only an opinion before they start whining. Try to relax, dumb asses, I always thought this story line was weak and it’s nice to hear I’m not alone on this. Superstar actors don’t always make a movie great, sorry to say. And don’t read reviews if you think a spoiler alert should be part of it.

    • Gronk says:

      Is that you, Owen? If not, it sounds like you had a preconceived judgment on this film, too, and you are happy because that hack Gleiberman reinforced your prejudice. I wonder how you would feel if OG ruined a movie you wanted to see.
      And to call another person a “dumb ass” because their opinion differs from yours just shows that you have no credibility.

      • Nick says:

        Not Owen here, sorry. No preconceived judgment or prejudice, I don’t believe. I just had the impression the story line was kind of weak, and the film critic apparently has the same impression. I used the term “dumb ass” because of the hysterical over-reactions to the film critic’s opinion. But of course they are entitled to their opinion, as am I and Owen and you. The thing I don’t get the most is why readers of a film critic’s opinion get upset when the entire story line is addressed. I, myself, am able to watch a film and fully enjoy it even when I know the story line. But that’s just me.

  28. Brendon says:

    Holy Smokes!!! You just ruined the entire movie you idiot. The movie is not out for another week for god’s sake.

  29. Jake says:

    Passengers is the perfect film for the “cool kids” like Gleiberman to dislike–a big-budget, star-driven movie for which he could play the contrarian and knock off its pedestal. I could have predicted months ago that he would not like this film because he, like some other critics, decide on a movie before they see it, and then they fit the narrative to their preconceived prejudices.
    What I couldn’t have predicted is that he would be so unprofessional as to expose a huge spoiler, and worse, do it without a warning. Over the past few years, Variety has devolved from a responsible trade paper to a common rag.

    • Jo Mama says:

      It’s because it’s a trade publication that you get spoilers. You’re in the wrong place if you want that kind of review. Every Variety review has spoilers, and they don’t come with warnings.

  30. Maddy says:

    The critic ought to have said spoiler alert. When do Variety reviews give away the film’s secret? While the critic may not like the film, for one person to give away what hundreds of artists and millions of dollars have tried to keep secret for the purpose of entertaining its audience is unprofessional and bleh. There ought to be a critic site that reviews the quality of critics.

  31. The Kevster says:

    “Lawrence, though a bit less vivid when she’s this blonde…” If you mean this as a reference to her skin tone versus this hair color, then just say that, because this reads as an incredibly sexist comment about women in general.

  32. Why did you write “deliberately rouses from her slumber”? It ruins my audience expirience. Very unprofessional of you. Blunt critic.

  33. Robert O'Dell says:

    Again the actors come out unscathed while the film is criticized mainly for the director and script. Still want to see it because Pratt and Lawrence are being given kudos for their performances and it’s wort it for that alone.

  34. You guys have just given the whole plot out!! I’ve been waiting for this movie for so long AND NOW I KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN. Is it that difficult to make a review without spoilers?! I hope no-one reads this dumb “review”

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