‘Passengers’ Movie Review: Romance and Adventure in Space

Passengers stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt
Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in Columbia Pictures’ ‘Passengers’ (Photo © 2016 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc)
Passengers has a couple of twists – one creepy, one expected – some cool sci-fi effects, and terrific performances by Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michael Sheen. What it doesn’t have is much of a story to tell over the course of two hours. Running about 30 minutes too long, Passengers is nonetheless a satisfying if forgettable sci-fi film that mixes in a little romance, a lot of unexpected humor, and a few thrilling scenes.

The setting of the film is a supersized spaceship called Avalon. The ship’s on its way to a new planet known as Homestead II carrying 5,000 passengers housed in suspended animation chambers, slumbering away for the 120 year journey. By the time they arrive, everyone they left behind on Earth will be deceased, and that’s okay with these space travelers who are looking to start over on a new world.

Unfortunately, something goes horribly wrong during the flight and Jim (Pratt) wakes up far too early – 90 years too early, to be exact. Alone on the gigantic ship, Jim has only robots, including a bartender (Sheen) who dispenses wisdom as well as whiskey, to keep him company. Jim spends his days attempting to find a way to put himself back to sleep, trying to break into the ship’s control room, and keep himself entertained as best as possible. As his loneliness and sense of isolation reaches a breaking point, Aurora (Lawrence) wakes up and the film switches from a sci-fi dramedy to a romantic thriller in space.

Director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and screenwriter Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange, Prometheus) pass up the opportunity to attack corporate greed, although they do lightly hint at the subject before shooting past it to emphasize the shiny world awaiting wealthy travelers. Tyldum and Spaihts do however explore a significant ethical and moral dilemma that turns out to be at the very heart of Passengers, but because it’s a huge spoiler is kept out of all trailers and video clips. Without going into specifics, this dilemma is a surprise twist that elevated Passengers from a simple story of survival to one which addresses darker issues.

Laurence Fishburne is a pleasure to watch in an all too brief appearance, but otherwise it’s just Pratt, Lawrence, and Sheen driving the film. Pratt and Lawrence have chemistry on screen, but the love scenes which have been the topic of so many interviews leading up to the film’s release won’t make anyone blush. They’re PG-rated yet get the point across as the relationship between Jim and Aurora transitions from strangers to friends to lovers.

The effects are first-rate and Tyldum made a wise choice in building large sets as the effort put into the spaceship’s design truly makes the ship feel not only real but like another character in the film. However, as fantastic as the special effects and set design are, Passengers is really a film about two lonely people finding each other in the most unlikely of circumstances. It’s more a romance than a thriller, so keep that in mind when you’re heading to the theater.

Passengers‘ premise is fairly intriguing and it’s hard to find fault with the actors in this sci-fi romance. Unfortunately, the film’s saddled with an ending that nearly ruins the entire experience of sitting through a screening. Exit the theater with about 10 minutes left to go and you’ll have a much more enjoyable time than if you stayed until the very end. Trust me on this one.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and action/peril

Release Date: December 21, 2016

Running Time: 116 minutes