Director: Morten Tyldum
Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen
Plot: Jim (Pratt) wakes up 90 years early from a cryo-sleep during a colonisation flight and discovers himself the only man awake on a space shuttle.
Have you ever felt that blockbuster Sci-Fis struggled to get to the meat of the story? In focusing on their narrative so closely, the brilliant yet minor details of their sci-fi universe have no choice but to be skimmed over. This is what Passengers seems to think of the Alien franchise and their cryo-sleep sub-plot. While Alien can hardly be accused of not having meat, the cryo-sleep was definitely not the focus. With Morten Tyldum’s sci-fi character piece, he uses this staple in the Sci-Fi universe to create an unsettling dilemma for his lead character.
In many ways, this is less Alien and more an updated take on the story of Castaway. Chris Pratt finds himself stuck on his own desert island, having a state-of-the-art luxury spacecraft to wander around in, but essentially being stranded in his own hell. The slow realisation that he is well and truly alone is quietly moving, as the bug-eyed happiness slowly fades into terror, as each new corridor is met with emptiness. Morten’s direction here is a thing of minimalistic brilliance. As Pratt tries to pry into the locked cockpit, his facial hair grows, suggesting that his efforts are months of aimless trying. There are slight moments when the audience foolishly envies the character as he has access to futuristic dance-off rooms and his own basketball court all to himself. Any scene that shows you a solitary character having an entire swimming pool, that gorgeously looks out into space via a transparent wall, will have a part of you wishing that you could be on that ship for just a second. But that is the magnificence of the first act of Morten Tyldum’s movie. As Pratt tries to enjoy the rest of his life using the ship as a plaything, he ultimately craves company. This luxury ship is nothing without anyone to share it with. Pratt might have hit the blockbuster world with Jurassic World and Guardians of the Galaxy, but there is the sense that this is the first script that treats him as a mature actor. It is a heart-breaking watch, as we witness a man essentially dying from loneliness, the light slowly fading from his eyes. While Lawrence is strong, but in her element, Pratt delivers a career-best turn here, using his famous charisma when it is needed, but unlike his own roles, it isn’t his crutch. He could easily totally eject the gags into space and still hold the film with the image of a man crumbling under his own company. It is important that Pratt delivers a three-dimensional figure, because as the story unfolds a dark and disturbing way, it is vital that we emphasise with Pratt, even when his decisions are most definitely wrong and self-serving. There isn’t so much a jaw-dropping twist as a slow dawning of what is about to happen. It is a gripping watch, because it sets up the true heart of the story. If you were trapped on a desert island, to what lengths would you go to not have to go through all that alone? You might not agree with the lengths that Pratt goes to, but you have to understand them, the haunting idea of dying alone settling in on him with disturbing certainty.
It is almost a shame when Morten takes the movie away from the character piece and morality debates to actually make a movie. There is a sad feeling that this movie felt forced to conform to the expectations of a Hollywood thriller. As Pratt and Lawrence go through their unique and interesting character arcs, the ship is slowly dying around them. As the movie enters its final half hour, the relationship drama descends into a disaster movie, with the pair of them putting aside their differences to save the sleeping passengers and themselves. It clearly isn’t Morten’s strong point as both a director and a storyteller. There are nice touches to the direction, true. The anti-gravity system is used brilliantly, going wrong at inopportune times. Its lack of overuse is strong, so when something does happened, it is constrained to a handful of glorious scenes. One terrifying moment where Jennifer Lawrence’s swimming pool becomes a floating death-trap is hypnotically wondrous to behold. However, as a whole, Morten doesn’t seem as confident in the disaster genre as he does in the quiet character stuff. The ending is a rag-tag staple of disaster clichés from the self-sacrificing hero to the big character confessions in a critical moment. It is especially recognisable with Sci-Fi disasters, because it is too easy to bury plot holes and gaps in logic with mumbo-jumbo technology talk. Passengers almost needed to be treated as a low-budget indie flick that thought outside the box and went with a more intimate ending. The actual resolution to the story too might frustrate some. Again, it plays to a Hollywood standard of conclusion whereas I think something as thoughtful as Passengers deserved something far more original and unique. However, the slight loss of complexity in the final third definitely does not steal from a very strong overall piece that sells itself as a romance in space, but truthfully, is so much more.
Final Verdict: The ending is Hollywood pandering, but everything that comes before is a beautifully told story that cements Pratt as a performer.