Saturday, December 24, 2016

Movie Review: PASSENGERS

Passengers is a 2016 science-fiction film directed by Morten Tyldum and starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. The lead characters are passengers on a ship destined for a colony world and begin the film in hibernation (to allow them to make the full 120 year trip and live on the other side) but, when something bad happens, the two are woken up and have to solve some problems and save the ship, as well as come to grips with the realization that they are doomed to die onboard the ship. As a general matter, this is a film with a fascinating premise and a beautiful production but falters in its execution.

The really great thing about Passengers is the interesting nature of the concept and the beautiful art and production design used in the film. The original sci-fi concepts on display in this film were great to see and the world of the film was really well developed. It’s also a stunningly gorgeous film. The design of the Avalon (the ship that they’re on) is really interesting and I was fully bought in through the first moments of my viewing experience. There is also a great scene where the ship loses gravity that is extremely cool visually.

The performances in the film were all ok. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence didn’t do anything special as the leads but they were serviceable which would normally be enough (it wasn’t as a result of some story issues). Lawrence Fishburne is in the film briefly and he was alright as well. The standout performance is by Michael Sheen who plays this android bartender. He was so fascinating and absolutely the best thing about the film.

The problems with movie are unfortunate given what it had to work with. The main conflict of the film is about a serious moral conundrum that probably everyone knows by now but that isn’t in the marketing so I won’t spoil it in this review. We know early on what it is as the audience and a large portion of this film is waiting for the boot to drop. That waiting period is dreadfully boring and the fact that Pratt and Lawrence weren’t special in terms of performances caused it to feel worse. These two are better than what is in this film and that created a long period where I was incredibly bored.

And then the boot drops. And there are other problems. The final act of this film really rushes to the conclusion. It highlights some conflict over the moral issue but quickly sweeps that aside in favor of a larger, incredibly common dilemma in sci-fi films. But when that common issue pops up, it ends the moral issue that was kind of interesting. Some things that may not be ok are forgiven and treated as fine simply because of the resolution of other issues. This made the film lack any weight it might have carried which was additionally disappointing.

Finally, the appearance of Lawrence Fishburne’s character is extremely poorly done. He’s in it briefly and just kind of appears spontaneously with little to no explanation and leaves just as unceremoniously. The scenes with him felt like the writers realized they needed someone with more knowledge to tell Lawrence’s and Pratt’s characters some essential information that they restricted earlier in the film but weren’t totally sure how to accomplish that. This was seriously problematic for the film which, on top of other problems, left me feeling very sour overall.

I think Passengers is a film that could have been great. It had everything it needed to be successful (interesting story, great performers, good director, great design, etc.). It’s an embarrassment of riches. The fact that all that good was largely wasted due to poor storytelling is aa real shame. I really hoped for more.

Ryan’s Score: 4/10

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