In Passengers, two people awake from hibernation with 90 years left of their intergalactic journey. They must work to unravel the mystery of how they awoke.
On paper, Passengers has a lot going for it. Its leads are two of the most charismatic actors in the business, the concept is simple yet inherently intriguing, and the sci-fi/mystery/romance genre mash-up is a fascinating exercise in tone and story. For the most part, the paper translated well to film. The leads were charming, the concept engaging, the genre remix a welcome change from some of the other clichéd blockbusters of the year. But most of these elements were simply there. While no aspect of the film was terrible, it seemed no one tried all that hard to make it any more than average.
For every area in which Passengers excelled, there was another in which it failed. All cancelling each other out over and over, until the film ends and it was entirely fine, but nothing more.
One of the bigger failings is the central mystery. Although only our two protagonists are awake, there are thousands of other passengers still in hibernation. The only other company the two of them have is the robot bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), who is always shining a glass and looking suspicious. Despite the deliberate attempt to make Arthur seem menacing, and the clear homages to the bar scenes from The Shining (1980), absolutely nothing comes of it. Nor does anything come from the chamber full of sleeping bodies located on the ship. The answer to the mystery is bland and rushed. Which is shocking considering the film clocks in at two hours.
The length and pacing are another problem. The film’s most important scenes – the scenes which one would expect to evoke poignancy, and compassion – are rendered weightless under the overbearing score, and suffocating editing. Every scene that needs to be longer is too short, every scene that needs to be shorter is too long.
But for every flaw Passengers has, there is a moment of interest or creativity to balance it out. While the music is sometime overwhelming, it has more light notes than one would expect from a sci-fi score. It has its own charm and character. There are some basic sci-fi concepts that are explored in inventive and thrilling ways. For instance; what happens to a swimming pool when there’s no gravity? Furthermore, the performances are endearing, the costuming is beautiful and the production design oscillates between standard futuristic architecture, to lavish and beautiful settings.
While Passengers is enjoyable, it is ultimately weighed down by the burden of its own promises to the audience. The promise of a compelling mystery, of engaging and fresh sci fi concepts, and of storytelling with gravitas.
Jennifer Lawrence’s character is named ‘Aurora’ in reference to her being a “Sleeping Beauty” like the Disney film with the same name.