The science fiction genre has had a significant resurgence in recent years. Films including The Martian and Interstellar have paved the way for this trend, with both being extremely popular while at the same time receiving critical acclaim. The award-winning Gravity has also established the sci-fi genre with some much-needed credibility. Sony Columbia Pictures, however, bucks this trend with the release of the aptly titled Passengers, a project that has been long in development at the studio. Passengers pushes aside all the complex intellectual conundrums in favour of significant star power and a fun tone that is incredibly entertaining.
Passengers follows the story of a crew of space travellers who find themselves in suspended animation as they journey across the galaxy to inhabit a new world. Complications arise however as a pod carrying one of the passengers mysteriously malfunctions, cutting his hibernation short by 90 years. What is meant to be the cruise of a lifetime quickly becomes a torturous experience, as protagonist Jim Preston is forced to face a plethora of ethical dilemmas as he attempts to find a solution. Jim's methods of keeping himself entertained during his isolated exile are highly entertaining to watch, a direct result of the wonderful persona of Chris Pratt. However, his mental condition soon begins to deteriorate as he faces a lifetime of loneliness and isolation.
His only emotional outlet is conveniently conveyed in dialogue with the ship's bartending android Arthur, played eloquently by Michael Sheen. The whole scenario is necessary as a medium to articulate Jim's mental state, without falling into the trap of showering the audience with monotonous expositional monologues. The film leaves the audience with a long period before the introduction of any new characters. This is a bold choice that doesn't quite work. Yet it is a decision that is used to establish the story world, while at the same time foreshadowing the plot points that are yet to come.
After a period of ethically challenging contemplation, Jim makes the morally murky decision to free another passenger from their sleeping pod. This specific passenger is writer Aurora Lane, played by the emotionally potent Jennifer Lawrence. It is a most welcome addition, however, the audience has to once again go through the manic roller coaster of emotions as another character has to come to terms with their plight. It is an unfortunate retread of previously explored territory that is perhaps unnecessary. Yet the chemistry between the new travel companions works incredibly well. From this point on Jim wrestles with revealing the truth, which becomes increasingly difficult as the pair become incredibly close.
The dynamic duo of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence is an ingenious pairing, which will leave audiences contemplating why a studio hasn't thought of the idea any sooner. Their charismatic interaction and onscreen chemistry is delightful, however it does lack the level of humour you would expect from such a unique combination. This is unfortunately a reflection of issues with the reworked script rather than each actor's solid performance. The premise is also an interesting concept for audiences to consume, however there are key moments where the story begins to fall away, transforming into an action blockbuster rather than exploring vital relationship resolution between the characters.
Chris Pratt is beginning to make a name for himself as arguably one of the biggest box office draws in Hollywood. While he has headlined successful blockbusters such as Guardian's of the Galaxy and Jurassic World, this is the first real film in recent times where he stands alone without any perceived brand recognition to help him along. Pratt's performance is highly enjoyable and he undoubtedly provides the most memorable moments. His solo screen time is also incredibly humorous and captivating to watch. This is a credit to his genuine persona and intuitive acting ability. There is is no question that he is a star and has an amazingly bright future. The film however doesn't reach the status of his previous work. It is unfortunate that his star power and charisma are not enough to compensate for the movie's plot issues and underwhelming final act.
The stunning Jennifer Lawrence provides a formidable presence as always. She performs her role incredibly well, and shares significant chemistry with her counterpart Chris Pratt. It has to be said however that her introduction is far too late, which wastes a lot of vital screen time. In addition to this, her character is not entirely believable. On the positive side, her unique performance offers enough to intrigue audiences and maintain their attention. Lawrence also has periods where she demonstrates incredible emotional volatility due to the circumstances that her character finds herself in. These emotional outbursts are perhaps a little overdone at times, and not truly reflective of the scenario, yet her anguish is understandable from a certain point of view.
Laurence Fishburne also provides a key cameo, providing adequate balance for Pratt and Lawrence to work off. Yet his role is no more than a plot device to keep the story moving along. It is at a key period where the film needs an injection of narrative drive, yet the brief role is trivial to say the least and doesn't utilise Fishburne's unique skill set.
The visual and special effects throughout the movie are quite stunning, as the film emulates and challenges the audience's perception of the physics in space. There is great attention to detail with the film's world building, particularly with the spaceship design. It is incredibly unique, sharing subtle concepts with last year's brilliant movie The Martian. Credit has to go to the stellar special effects and visual effects department for creating such a credible story world.
In summary, Passengers is a fun filled movie that explores a maze of psychological dilemmas for audiences to ponder. It is a visually stunning film, without necessarily being too complicated. Yet it fails to have the significant impact that its creators would have hoped for. The performances of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are fantastic for the most part, however the plot makes it difficult for viewers to completely identify with them. Although, it has to be said that the raunchy chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence makes the movie incredibly watchable. There are also a plethora of emotionally unsettling moments that are sure to keep audiences on the edge of their seat. In short, it's worth taking some time out to see at the cinema.