Well, this was quite a nice surprise. Based on the trailer(s), I must say I was expecting (to reference Monty Python) something completely different to the actual film that I saw. That it would be a superficial rom-dram-com affair in a sci-fi setting - the kind of thing journeymen directors like McG or Brett Ratner would make back in the earlier part of this century - starring two of Hollywood's current hottest properties of Lawrence and Pratt. However, I was very pleasantly surprised that there is more going on than just that. Essentially, in part a space-bound variation on the Robinson Crusoe premise - or Robert Zemeckis' Castaway if we're referencing recent celluloid history - but with a bold curvature to the usual, well worn story beats; Passengers has a bit of everything - despair, love, betrayal, redemption - wrapped up in the mother of all moral dilemmas.
A project long in gestation as far back as 2007; back in 2013 it was intended to star Keanu Reeves and Reese Witherspoon. Fast forward a couple of years and it procured an interesting choice of director - Norwegian helmer Morten Tyldum, who made the frankly bonkers (in a really good way) Headhunters, and The Imitation Game - along with the aforementioned smouldering hot stars. Space films with the combo of talented director paired with photogenic leads don't always connect with audiences/critics; although Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity was a hit, Soderbergh's adaptation of Solaris was well received critically but a major box office flop. Of the latter, it was a difficult sell for the studio being the complete anthesis of a typical mainstream film. Ultimately, landing Tyldum for this movie was an inspired move as his European sensibilities are undoubtedly beneficial to the character driven, thought provoking aspects of the story which are usually relatively glossed over by wham bang US directors (*ahem*Michael Bay*ahem*).
Passengers received a largely lukewarm critical reception - 31% from critic's reviews on rotten tomatoes - which was somewhat unexpected given how enjoyable it is (and I'm quite jaded towards films these days compared to my significantly less fussier youth!). Percentage-wise, It only fared slightly better with critics than genuine dreck like Suicide Squad and Terminator Genisys, so there's something very wrong with that picture (particularly if you happen to swear by RT’s percentages for a quick guide, IMDB's user rating is much more on the money). Some articles online have suggested that the movie was also a hard sell in a similar way to the aforementioned Solaris. Ok, there is the matter of a controversial plot point raising a serious moral issue that is sure to divide opinion. Personally, placing oneself in that type of scenario, I could not promise to make the correct choice from a purely moral perspective - to paraphrase the Rag'n'Bone Man's song, 'We're only human after all.' In any case, we're shown how it is a tortuous decision by the protagonist, is not the immediate option, and not taken lightly. Also, the intricacies of the plot itself may prove irksome if you think about it in greater depth - e.g. the lack of contingency back up in an emergency on an advanced spacecraft. Whilst there are some wonderful moments of subtle, black humour - such as the scenario involving breakfast for premium class guests - there are also some tonal shifts within the narrative that may not appeal to everyone. Aesthetically, Passengers is a gorgeous looking movie with top tier visual effects, especially in the exterior shots and the space walking sequence. The vibrant, shiny colour palette of the film owe more to Luc Besson's The Fifth Element or Back to the Future II, than the more commonly favoured vision of space griminess.
Character-wise, Chris Pratt's Jim veers between sympathetic to verging on pure selfish/despicable. As I said, we're only human, and may be liable to make desperate decisions in desperate situations. It's a different kind of role in comparison to his playful buffoon in Guardians, or the rather more square jawed heroics of Jurassic World. Pratt delivers his usual easy going charm, but the star of the show is unquestionably Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora (fully justifying her purported superior salary to her male co-star). Besides adorning the finest galactic swimsuit-cum-bikini since Jabba The Hut enslaved a Princess, Lawrence gives a performance that reminds us of the actress from Silver Linings rather than the one going through the motions in another X-Men sequel. She's sensational and far from a passenger in this movie (so to speak). The only other prominent cast member is Michael Sheen as a slightly creepy android drinks server, with more than a hint of Joe Turkell’s bartender from The Shining and a sprinkle of the Johnnycab from Total Recall thrown in.
Passengers is an engrossing sci-fi yarn that travels to places you may not expect. It doesn't really strive for grandeur on the level of Interstellar, and is perhaps more intimate in its study of love, humanity, and the flaws that come with it. Pratt and Lawrence at times sharing sizzling chemistry, although the latter is undoubtedly in the pilot's cockpit when it comes to the performance. Besides certain elements of the plot not really holding up to close scrutiny, other flaws include the final act too readily steering into Titanic territory, with a denouement that is tied up far too neatly in typical Hollywood fashion. However, these niggles are far outweighed by the plentiful positives. Unlike the mythical island of Avalon (of which the film's starship is named after), Passengers may not be perfect, but there's more than enough to recommend that you strap on your seatbelt, sit back and enjoy the in flight entertainment.