Film Review: Passengers (M) (USA, 2016) is far from the grand space opera many will be expecting

Similar to how the recently released Allied arrived in cinemas preempted by an action-heavy advertising campaign that proved somewhat misleading, Passengers is far from the grand space opera many will be expecting.  Instead of a sci-fi outing that’s more brawn than brains, Morten Tyldum‘s intriguing film is surprisingly simple, personal, and (mostly) effective.

As we learn, civilisation in the future has expanded beyond the constrictions of Earth and the Starship Avalon is currently travelling on a 120 year-long journey to Homestead II, a newly populated planet.  Aboard the Avalon are 5000 passengers who are hibernating in their sleeper pods, destined to wake up in the final months of their travels in a new century.  For mechanic Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) it’s the chance to start anew, unfortunately for him though an unprecedented malfunction disrupts his hibernation and he comes to the realisation that there’s still 90 years of travel left before the Avalon reaches its destination.

Understandably shaken, confused, angry and irrational in his predicament, Jim spends the best part of a year exploring the vast starship in equal attempts to both save and amuse himself; his appearance growing more dishevelled over-time, though his physicality remains in peak form.  Seemingly accepting of his fate, a shift in circumstance welcomes another passenger out of their slumber – New York author Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) – leading to further contemplation on how to improve their current hardship.

Whilst Passengers relies on some visually spectacular cues, director Tyldum (The Imitation Game) ultimately places the picture’s success on the power of his leads, and both Pratt and Lawrence prove just how far charm and charisma can take a film.  Both adept at successfully driving the action and comedy genres, the film allows Pratt to work with more than what he has in his past ventures by, ironically, handing him less in his surroundings.  Preston is a flawed character, and Pratt conveys his fear and vulnerability in an honest fashion; it’s also a testament to the actor to how sympathetic we find ourselves towards his plight in regards to a particular choice he executes which undoubtedly will be one of the major talking points for audiences.

As for Lawrence, her character’s situation isn’t as complicated as Pratt’s but she arguably has the more dramatic arc in how she finds herself in the story and, unsurprisingly, the actress excels in delivering a certain fierce emotionality within her character.  It’s also in Passengers‘ favour that Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange)’ script allows the two to engage in various sprightly conversations; some of the best involving Michael Sheen as an android bartender on-board the Avalon.

If you venture into Passengers expecting outlandish action-fuelled sequences, you’ll be bitterly disappointed as this is essentially a romantic drama that poses an interesting moral dilemma at the core of a story that attempts to be bold in its statement on love and sacrifice.  The film is both beautiful to look at and to listen to – Thomas Newman‘s score is atmospherically sound – and the final moments make way for those craving their action-fix with a suitably loud sequence that’s impressive in its visuals, but I do believe this will come as too little too late for viewers expecting more.

Not as thrilling on a superficial popcorn level as Rogue One or as emotionally effective as Arrival, Passengers sits somewhere comfortably in between, proving a satisfactory-enough journey thanks to the allure of its leads and its sumptuous pallet.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Passengers is in cinemas from Sunday, January 1st