Directed by Morten Tyldum
In the summer months, theaters are full of exciting adventure tales with big-name stars and thin plots that nevertheless thrill us every step of the way. We crave the escapism. But around the holiday season, the fare typically becomes fancier. We’re asked to think more, feel more. Award season is nigh. That’s what we get used to, so as critics (and audiences), we can be caught off guard when a summer blockbuster hits us in December. With an abundance of award-season films and a void of mindless escapism, what better time than now to be caught off guard by a movie that’s not asking us to think, but instead just wants to take us along on the ride, as passengers?
Aboard the Avalon, a spaceship on a 120-year trip to a habitable Earth-like planet, over 5,000 passengers and crew are hibernating until a few months before arrival. But a malfunction on the ship causes passengers to wake up nearly a century too early. Jim (Chris Pratt) and Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) have the luxury ship to themselves, which provides a few fun days until boredom and dread kicks in. But when the ship’s malfunctions turn dangerous, they’ll have no time to contemplate their boredom, and be forced to work together to save the sleeping passengers from certain doom.
Sure, the whole “sinking ship” storyline and romance between humble blue-collar boy and wealthier first-class passenger draw comparisons to the much bolder, much, much better “Titanic.” That’s the movie “Passengers” wanted to be. Comparing it to that would only lead to embarrassment, but on its own, “Passengers” does bring things to the table. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are charismatic, lovable leads with a lot of chemistry. Movies with a limited number of characters can often be slow. “Passengers” has those moments, but thanks to its two leads you get through them much quicker. And in a smaller but significant role, Michael Sheen (who talked recently of retiring from movies, which is much sadder news after being reminded of his comedic charm here) shines as an android bartender. Thomas Newman’s sad, beautiful score is the needed accompaniment for the sci-fi adventure. And the Oscar-shortlisted visual effects ensure that whether or not the dialogue is sometimes corny (it is) or the science is somewhere between shaky and downright absurd (it is), what you see on the screen makes it worthwhile.
Early on in the year, before the trailer had even been released, “Passengers” courted possible award season consideration. What “Passengers” ended up being, however, is far from that. But as just another crowd-pleasing flick for a good date night, you could do way worse than this fun adventure romance.