Thursday 22 December 2016

Review: Passengers

Cert: 12A / 116 mins / Dir. Morten Tyldum / Trailer

Well, fair play to Columbia Pictures. No, really. I can't quite envision the table of reactions at the Friday afternoon meeting when one voice piped up "Passengers a sci-fi movie… why don't we just release it six days after Star Wars?", nor the ensuing discussion which saw that idea get signed off. But it clearly happened. Fair play.

Set in a future time of commercialised off-world colonisation, Passengers is the story of two prospective settlers who wake from cryo-sleep 30 years into their 120-year journey on the starship Avalon, and have to figure out what's brought them round early, and how they can avoid dying of old age before the ship reaches its destination. All the best science fiction works on an allegorical level, and Morten Tyldum's film seems to be a metaphor for two people waking from cryo-sleep 30 years into a 120-year journey and having to figure out what's brought them round early and how they can avoid dying of old age before the ship reaches its destination.

Loneliness, destiny, purpose, the weight of responsibility and the isolating vastness of space. Precisely none of these themes are properly explored in a film which is the cinematic equivalent of candy floss; very pretty to look at, but almost entirely without substance or nutritional content of any kind.

I didn't hate Passengers, but the plot felt so staggeringly linear that I began to wonder if I was missing something huge. If that's the case then I continue to miss it.

The first act belongs to engineer and everyman-archetype, Chris Pratt (largely playing Chris Pratt™), on his own in the ship and slowly losing the plot as his 5,300 sleeping peers manage to doze through his escalating breakdown*1. The whole thing plays out like a retelling of I Am Legend, overlaid with a child trying to explain the premise of Red Dwarf. Jennifer Lawrence arrives soon after as a borderline unlikeable writer*2 who'd been on 'a journey' to 'find herself'. The thing which apparently upsets her most about living out the rest of her life in space is not being surrounded by people telling her how great she is (#23rdCenturyProblems). And then after a while, Laurence Fishburne arrives in an officer's uniform, being the only one trained or qualified to drive the story forward. Throughout all of this, Michael Sheen periodically supports as an android bartender, the one role where that weird grin of his actually feels appropriate.

With a couple of very minor exceptions, this is a cast of four people (with the addition of Andy Garcia laughing all the way to the bank). Which is fine. Pratt and Lawrence make the most of what they're given to work with, Sheen arguably has the most fun and Fishburne is chewing the scenery and thinking about the money. Which is fine.

The film as a whole? Not fine. And not fun, either. When did starting a new life on the other side of the galaxy, investigating a mystery on-board an ostensibly deserted spacecraft and fixing a reactor-core by opening an airlock using a door as a makeshift flame-shield become so boring?*3. The super-generic on screen displays and minimalist interior of The Avalon look like they're from a screenplay written in the 1970s which has been waiting for the effects-industry to catch up. And everything looks Nice™ here, but an incredibly bland way. Notwithstanding that the trailer actually mis-sells the premise of the movie*4, anyone hoping for a third-act reveal is going to be disappointed. Generally speaking, I enjoy the work of all the cast*5, but their performances just aren't enough to carry the weak screenplay.

Passengers at least does some of what it says on the tin.
I didn't go 'on a journey', but I do feel like I was taken for a ride…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Oh, After Earth, I imagine.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you like your film things big and shiny, yes.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I genuinely have no idea.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It isn't.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I won't.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Let's go for an easy one, Jennifer Lawrence was in X-Men: Apocalypse alongside Rose 'Dormé' Byrne and Oscar 'Dameron' Isaac.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 They sleep throughout the whole thing. At one point I was worried I was going to join them.

*2 And after the film features some of her 'desert island prose', this is a term I use very loosely.

*3 Doesn't it bother anyone else that when the gravity fails on the ship, previously static items in the various rooms begin to drift around - indicating that the film-makers are aware that the forward thrust and corkscrew motion of the ship would act upon these objects -, yet when our heroes step outside for a tethered spacewalk, they're not immediately yanked back into the craft's slipstream? We're told it's travelling at approximately half the speed of light, and while gravity won't apply to them outside the ship, momentum and inertia would. Maybe it's not a documentary...

*4 This is Mystique & Star-Lord: The Stalking Years. Every bit as creepy as that sounds and nowhere near as dramatic as it could (would) be.

*5 Although if I recall correctly, it was around this time last year when one of them made a two-hour melodrama about kitchen mops...

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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