Some films set themselves up well to be a huge success. This could be due to the cast, director, story, release date, and a variety of other factors. Every now and then, this perfect storm comes together in one film to possibly spell a huge blockbuster success that could compete for some awards. There is usually at least one of these films every year. One of these films in 2016 is definitely Passengers, a futuristic space thriller starring two of the biggest stars in Hollywood right now and directed by Morten Tyldum, the acclaimed director coming off a huge success in The Imitation Game. Add in the Christmas release date, and you have a film that could be huge. However, all this is just hype until the film is seen. You just hope it can live up to some of the expectations that have been placed on it.
The starship Avalon has embarked on a journey to colonize a new planet that has been discovered called Homestead II. This journey takes 120 years so the 5000 passengers and 285 crew members are placed in sleep chambers for almost the entire journey (they wake up for the last 4 months) so they can wake up upon arrival not aging a day. When the ship travels through an asteroid field, a malfunction leads to the premature awakening of two passengers (Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence) 90 years early. Now Jim and Aurora, two complete strangers, are forced to get to know each other as they are alone on this ship and destined to die long before anyone else wakes up. Being two young, attractive people with no one else to talk to (besides the robot bartender Arthur), they begin to fall in love.
First, the film is beautiful to watch. Half the time, I feel like I should be listening to Neil deGrasse Tyson narrating my space documentary instead of watching Pratt and Lawrence run around a spaceship. The two lead actors are exactly what they need to be as well. They aren't award-worthy performances, however they are strong nonetheless. It's hard to be the only two people in a film and pull it off. Michael Sheen as Arthur the robot bartender is a scene-stealer every time he shows up. The first half of this film is fascinating as it takes the huge scope and scale and turns it into an intimate love story with a huge secret hanging over their heads. If it had stayed there, it would have been a much better film.
Once the big secret comes out (which isn't a secret at all for the audience), the story starts to tumble out of control. In the aftermath of the big reveal, the ship starts to have serious malfunctions that threaten the lives of everyone on board. Now Jim and Aurora, with no training, have to save the passengers they will never meet.
This film had a lot of good things going for it, but I had a lot of issues with it as well. First, there are parts of the premise that don't quite work. How does this Homestead company work? They fire people out into space on a ship that takes 250 years to travel round trip? They do not really explain how exactly this works. The round trip would take longer than the USA has currently been in existence! Second, there is a huge issue that is never mentioned. If these two people are awake this whole time, how will there be any food left for the rest of the passengers once they wake up?
There are two bigger issues I have with the film. First, it oversimplifies what is going on. The great space films don't dumb down what is going on with the science of the plot. This film never really explains anything. Either it assumes its audience won't understand or the writers didn't bother putting in the details. It doesn't matter why they did it, but it is definitely a turn-off. My second big issue with the film is how it spirals into something it didn't need to do with the apocalyptic, end of the world plot "twist." Then it uses that to tie the whole thing up into a nice, neat, little bow at the end. It really cops out to get there as well.
I am a huge fan of space films. My favorite film of all time is Apollo 13, and I was a huge fan of Gravity as well a few years ago. I have very high standards when it comes to films in space. This is not a space film. It is a thriller that happens to take place in space. That made it a slight disappointment. With all that said, I really enjoyed about the first half to two-thirds of the film. I was willing to forgive some of these oversights when the film was going well. However, once you see how the last third of the film is developing, you know exactly how it is all going to end as it takes no risks. Once that happens, all the flaws start to matter more and more. I expected more of a space film, and I expected more of Tyldum's follow-up to The Imitation Game. I really wanted to love this film. I liked it, but it could have been so much more.