Passengers is a sci-fi romance thriller, directed by Morten Tyldum and starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. It's a sci-fi because the story takes place in outer space, dealing with a transporter by the name of 'Avalon', which holds over 5000 passengers on a 120 year voyage to 'Homestead II'. Their hibernation pods prevent them from ageing, allowing them to essentially travel into the future, foregoing friends and family on earth to start over on a new colony. The corporate colonisation of another inhabitable planet, the technology surrounding a mass relocation and the questions surrounding a "geographical suicide" give Passengers plenty of science-fiction fodder. Add a premature awakening for some of the passengers and you've essentially got Castaway in outer space.
Passengers is a romance because we are dealing with a story akin to a futuristic Adam & Eve on board the Titanic. Chris Pratt plays Jim, a likeable engineer, who discovers he is all alone on the 'Avalon' after a malfunction causes his pod to open prematurely. Jennifer Lawrence plays Aurora, an aspiring writer, who also finds herself awake with 90 years of space travel ahead of her. Devastated to learn that they may spend the rest of their days alone on a floating hotel, the two try to make the most of the situation. As their fates align, so do their hearts and instead of collapsing into a slump they try to enjoy their togetherness, deferring their troubles to an android barman played by Michael Sheen.
It's also a thriller as the romantic pairing start to realise how they came to know each other and that a much greater threat begins to make itself known. Just as they are coming to terms with their solitude and the fact that they may eke out the rest of their lives on a spaceship, things start to fall apart. Through darker themes and the manifestation of mounting troubles, the two discover they aren't as alone as they had previously imagined and band together to save the 'Avalon' and its precious cargo.
"So we're kinda like 2-in-1 now."
Instead of embracing these three genre elements simultaneously, Passengers transitions through each of them like phases of the day. The notion of being trapped in space, isolated from humanity and alone with your thoughts is much like Tom Hanks being stranded on an island. We saw Sandra Bullock facing her own mortality in Gravity and Passengers takes a page, using its futuristic setting to pick up where George Clooney left off. At the outset, it may seem like "Gravity for Two", but the focus is more on relationship than survival. Setting this relational dynamic against the backdrop of the "unsinkable" 'Avalon' makes it seem like a sci-fi version of Titanic. Adding a writer, a rambling hotel, cold exterior and an old world bar all point towards The Shining.
Passengers could have gone the Event Horizon route with nightmarish happenings or geared up towards Ex Machina with an introspective psychological thriller. However, this is not a niche film, but a commercial one. Morten Tyldum may be the director from the acclaimed The Imitation Game, but he is operating with two of the hottest properties in Hollywood, delivering on a lightweight script with a genre identity crisis. Instead of teasing out characters and themes, it seems content to simply poke around in the dark, fumbling its way from one room to another.
Luckily, they can rely on the charms and talents of their co-leads, who go a long way to redeeming this space melodrama of what-ifs. The sleek CGI and design architecture keep us visually stimulated as the handsome cast provide enough twinkle to keep us watching as many fanboys get a chance to play out that fantasy about confronting Jennifer Lawrence "as the last person on earth". Passengers is a mixed bag, but it's beautiful to look at and entertaining enough to get through. While it's better and less ambitious than Jupiter Ascending, it belongs in the same league of misfires, inspired by greater films but unable to seize its place among the stars.