Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of drafts saved in my WordPress’s draft box (or whatever it’s called), in which I have glowing praises for some brilliant films out in this last month. Life Animated, Rogue One, Fantastic Beasts, and Moana, but sometimes writing a blog gets boring if all you are doing is praising films and trying to prove you have a good range of vocabulary.
However, Passengers makes me want to write about it. It is the worst film I have witnessed since Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which as you will recall, was not a film as much as a self-deprecating YouTube trailer for itself. It’s actually a bit refreshing that something as awful as Passengers is available for me to write about, but what a shame that I cannot really fit in another cinema trip this year and it might be the last film I see in 2016, (which is somewhat apt I suppose). There will be spoilers in this review, there’s no way around it.
The trailers showed a film where two fated passengers, Jim something and Aurora pretty-girl-name (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) are alone on a ship travelling for over a hundred years and have been woken up early. A promising concept, a sci-fi version of a desert island (as the film’s characters kindly point out to us, the writers having no sense of subtlety).
That is not the film actually in cinemas. The story is actually that Jim has been woken up, spends a year trying to resume his sensible hibernation, and goes insane. A nice psychological thriller is what you hope for, when instead, he gawps at Aurora’s profile in the ships computer and debates with the Robot Bartender (Michael Sheen as Arthur, who is quite frankly the best part of this madness), whether he should wake her up as to end his loneliness. He knows it is wrong, that he could doom her to die, that he would feel inexcusable guilt and that he would be living a lie. But this montage is over quickly enough and the plot needs to actually be the plot it wants to be, so he does it.
Now, whilst I found the pain and guilt Jim felt was genuine and it is an interesting dramatic question of what happens when Jennifer Lawrence (who is just playing herself, sorry Jen) finds out works, the plot has nowhere to go from there. It is dangerously problematic and sad that we’re in a world where no-one on the production and creative team pondered ‘is it actually interesting to watch a man condemn a woman to death to end his own insanity even though he knows it is wrong?’ It is not. The film drags montage after montage and nothing interesting happens. Even when we get to the dramatic reveal, it is entirely pointless, a sideline for the pair because soon the film remembers that science-fiction is what the audience came for and decides that there’s a big sci-fi problem for them to solve. It’s all cohesive if you are able to move beyond all of the troublesome and clichéd content dribbled throughout the film, but you might find yourself too bored with the characters to care.
It’s desperately saddening to watch because it could have been so much better. Pratt and Lawrence have excellent chemistry and the visuals are solid enough. I look forward to seeing a fan edit that makes the film from Aurora’s point of view, makes the romance between her and Jim genuine, and then slowly reveals the dark truth behind his choice to wake her up and doom her. You get a thrilling near-murder-mystery with only one suspect that you can’t bare to admit is the villain in that version of the same story, and you could potentially care about them both. Instead, you get a story where a man’s efforts to stalk and essentially kidnap Jennifer Lawrence are rewarded.
What a shame. After some truly brilliant science fiction releases this year, Midnight Special, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Arrival, and of course Rogue One, it is a real shame that this soppy, creepy, boring, and downright idiotic thing is what 2016’s ending on. Classic 2016.