Passengers Review: A One of a Kind Science-Fiction Satire
Passengers is the story of a man named Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), who along with 5,000 others has boarded the Starship Avalon looking for a fresh start on a new planet. The Starship Avalon is a high-end spaceship that has repeatedly been tested for malfunctions and has never had a single one. While halfway through the journey from Planet Earth to Homestead 2, a system failure occurs causing Jim to wake up approximately 90 years before the ship is slated to land. While Jim begins to investigate what caused his hibernation pod to open early, he quickly realizes that he might be spending the next 90 years alone unless he isn’t the only person on the ship that has been affected by the malfunction.
Thinking back on it, I honestly can’t remember the last time that I had so much fun watching a movie in a theater. Passengers is a one of a kind science-fiction satire that kept me entertained from start to finish. The basic premise works so well because it is very similar to Gravity from a few years back. Like Gravity, there are very few characters in this film. Chris Pratt plays Jim, Jennifer Lawrence plays Aurora Lane, and Michael Sheen plays Arthur, the smooth talking robot bartender. These are pretty much the film’s key players unless you count the ship’s operating system along with Laurence Fishburne‘s Gus, who shows up briefly in the second half of the film.
Passengers is a two person story with Lawrence and Pratt exhibiting amazing on-screen chemistry almost instantly. These two are the glue that holds the ship together so to speak. Aurora and Jim explore the ship and try to make the best out of their situation. They struggle with the isolation but find ways to adapt. There is something incredibly sweet when Jim sends a robot to Aurora room asking her out on a date. As a couple, they spend time at the bar each night talking with Arthur as though he is their friend. Jim works on the ship fixing little things that go wrong while Aurora works on writing about her life. Aurora and Jim do normal activities that are part of daily life. They exercise, play basketball, engage in a game of Dance-Dance Revolution or two, and watch movies. These are two people that are truly trying to make the best of their situation while realizing that all they have is each other.
The script by Jon Spaihts is incredibly comedic while managing to be oddly romantic and dramatic all at the same time. The central plot isn’t as simple as the trailers lead you to believe which might result in being a bit of a hard sell for some audiences. I found it to be this entertaining plot device which was perfect for the two leads that shared such wonderful chemistry. It is hard to discuss a lot of this film without revealing the twist, but I think it worked for the type of story that it is. The comedic tone works in the film’s favor as it plays on the classic cliches of the lonely survivor tale that we have seen so many times before while still managing to bring up moral debates.
The comedy is used in such a creative way. It’s the little things like the robots speaking different languages in the various restaurants or the breakfast machine telling Jim that he can only have regular coffee because of his ship status. The scene where Jim sends an email to the ship’s customer service team is hilarious. The email tells Jim that it will take 18 years to get to Earth’s customer service center after being sent. My favorite scene which is probably the hardest I laughed all year, is between Jim and Gus (Fishburne) discussing Jim’s secret. The way that Fishburne deliveries the line “Still, Damn” was hysterical.
Spaihts script pokes fun at things like technology, science fiction cliches, and social class. Aurora and Jim even share a conversation about why they each took part on this journey and their reasons are completely different. Jim is an optimist that saw buying a ticket to Homestead 2 as an opportunity to lead a better life in his field as a mechanical engineer. Aurora, on the other hand, mocks the Homestead and labels it as a business that manipulates people and makes a ton of money off them. Aurora is a journalist and is only going on the trip to write about the experience and bring it back to the people of earth.
The design of the Starship Avalon is incredible as well. The various rooms and restaurants are all fascinating to look at. I love the pool room where Aurora visits daily to go swimming. The breathtaking views overlooking space are honestly exquisite. The ship’s design mimics the design of so many space ships that we have seen over several years in various science fiction films. The rooms on the ship look and feel like something you would find on a cruise ship. The Avalon is almost a character in itself and a place that you can honestly see a group of people living on for years because there is something for everyone. The Avalon has several different types of restaurants and various sources of entertainment like a game room, virtual basketball court, and movie theater.
Director Morten Tyldum captures the beauty of space and handles this story with such care and conviction. It is always interesting seeing a director go from making an Oscar-nominated film to taking on something unique and different. Tyldum makes this space story his own and its visually stunning. The ship itself is a marvel but even the scenes outside of the ship and of the various rooms seem to play homage to classic science fiction films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. The gravitation scene where Aurora is engulfed in the pool of water was stunning to look at and was such a memorable sequence. Tyldum proves with this film that he can handle different genres with such ease. He knows how to incorporate subtle humor into his projects and can get the most out of his actors. He really is someone to keep an eye on as he will only continue to become more impressive as a film-maker.
In the film’s final act, Passengers embraces its space adventure side and there is real danger presented. We learn that the ship may completely stop functioning if Aurora and Jim can’t figure it out. The film gets a bit wild and becomes a bit outrageous but always seems to be grounded because it never takes itself too seriously. We all knew this plot point was coming so the story just has fun with it. Tyldum and the actors make it all about pushing the limits. I don’t want to spoil anything for you but it leads to the two actors floating around in space.
All in all, Passengers is one of the most entertaining films of the year. It is so much fun and just a fantastic time at the movies. I honestly had more fun watching Passengers than I had watching Rogue One. It’s a comedic, romantic, suspenseful, and even dramatic. It is a great satrical space adventure that never takes itself too seriously. It knows exactly what it is and just has fun with it. Lawrence and Pratt are dynamic together, and they just fit the roles and the story perfectly. Passengers is easily one of the biggest surprises of the year and a film that I can’t wait to revisit again with friends and family.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s final rating for Passengers is 8 out of 10.