Passengers (2016) is good when it’s tedious

I watched Passengers to find out if the rumors were true: is this really a crappy space movie with great stars? Yes, it does have good performances, so the acting really isn’t a problem, because Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt do a good job, but the plot has a lot of contrivances that are hard to accept. This movie has elements of Solaris, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Martian, and others, all thrown together, but Passengers isn’t as strong as any one of them, sorry. The only reason I saw it was the intriguing premise, but it devolves into a crappy melodrama instead of exploring deeper themes and becomes a stupid action movie, ending with dumbness.

At the beginning of the movie, Chris Pratt wakes up pre-maturely before his colony ship reaches the New World <tm>. This is the first of the contrivances. Asteroids damaged the ship and a power failure woke him up, so he sits around for a while investigating his situation and discovers he can’t go back to “sleep”, so he’s pretty lonely. Those are pretty convenient asteroids. Whoever planned the flight really is stupid.

So he’s lonely.  He decides to wake somebody up.  Seems natural, I guess.  Pratt doesn’t wake up the Captain, or the head engineer, and can’t even fix the dumb problem himself, despite being a talented mechanic. He can’t even get on the bridge because he doesn’t have the right access.  So he wakes up Jennifer Lawrence because she’s good-looking.  After that, the movie stops being creative and we get melodrama for a while, then Lawrence Fishburn pops up to be a human plot device, move the plot forward, and conveniently helps solve some problems. But then Fishburn dies, leaving the two of them alone again. Convenient.

Passengers best delivers when it expresses tedium, which I guess is unfortunate. It shows us what Chris Pratt likes, describes his class in life, and what he does to fill the time before he falls in love with Jennifer Lawrence, because she has great hair and good plastic surgery.  The moments of tedium are the same kind of thing we see on Prometheus as David busies himself learning and experiencing human culture, except the scenes on Passengers aren’t as good.

You can clearly see a satirical vibe in the first half of the movie, but it doesn’t last very long. He’s denied an expresso because he’s not a “gold” passenger and can’t live in the fancy suite because he’s really not that important (or rich), until he later busts in with a crowbar. The movie doesn’t explore what this really means and flies through interesting themes for more melodramatic, fare. Chris Pratt as Jim has a moral decision to make, and I’m not sure if I could make the same decision to wake up someone else. Honestly, I guess I’d wake up a hot chick too if I had a choice, but this movie has the most lighthearted take on the dilemma of being stranded I’ve ever seen. Even Tom Hanks did better with being stranded on a plain ole desert island, a la Cast Away. Passengers has everything in science fiction at its disposal and can’t even do better than Cast Away.

This movie is written by the same guy who wrote Prometheus, with it’s same thought-provoking beginning, action plot, and dumb contrivances. Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence have good characters, despite being annoyingly good-looking, and there’s not much struggle except for the contrived action scenes. In fact, the struggle really isn’t a struggle, because everybody lives because of a contrivance. Jennifer Lawrence is in danger and falls unconscious in the water until the movie decides that she’s really okay. No biggie. Pratt survives a fireball from a fusion reactor because it’s up to Pratt and Lawrence to deliver a melodramatic ending, so he can’t die.

In the end, the movie doesn’t even really address the point of the whole movie and why it began in the first place, beyond simply explaining that Jim was lonely. Yeah, he was lonely, but why was he lonely? What does that say about us as humans? What does human attachment mean for space travel or science or colonization or human relationships? None of these questions are answered. So, this movie is too superficial to be really good, and it’s only an average popcorn flick with nice-looking people. Too bad.

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