Monday 19 August 2019

Movie review: Passengers (12A) - Lost in space with Jennifer

This handsome galaxy opera is fun for a while, but doesn’t live up to its premise, says Paul Whitington
Passengers (12A, 116 mins)
Rating: 3/5

Space jam: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are the only two passengers ‘awake’ on a gigantic spaceship
Space jam: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are the only two passengers ‘awake’ on a gigantic spaceship

If you're going to get lost in space, it might as well be with someone good-looking. That's the basic premise of this big budget space opera based on a script that's been knocking around for so long it was originally supposed to star Keanu Reeves. And one thing the producers of Passengers have gotten dead right is the casting of its two leads.

In fact, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are practically the only two people who appear in Morten Tyldum's handsome-looking drama and, in fact, for the first half hour or so, Pratt's on his own. He's one of 5,000-odd passengers on a giant spaceship bound on a 120-year journey from a worn-out Earth to a new and virginal world. Those aboard will stay the same age during the epic trip thanks to hi-tech hibernation pods, but only 30 years into the journey, one of them mysteriously fails. It contains Jim Preston, a sturdy-looking mechanic who quickly realises the true horror of his situation.

A kind of deep space Robinson Crusoe, he roams the decks of what feels more like a six-star hotel than a ship, being served French food by robots and stiff drinks by a charming but conversationally-limited android barman called Arthur (a cheerfully dead-eyed Michael Sheen).

He's awake and cannot re-hibernate himself, and so is doomed to wander the empty halls of the vessel until he grows old and dies, years before anyone else wakes up and the destination is finally reached.

In other words, he's f**ked and before too long, has let himself go and is living like a suicidal rock star, gorging on junk food and drinking from the bottle. Until one day, when he's wandering past the hibernation pods, he lays eyes on a sleeping goddess.

It's Lawrence of course, or rather Aurora Lane (her name helpfully is written on the side of the pod), and though Jim does not know her, he instantly falls in love. He finds out more about her on the ship's computer: she's a writer from New York and intends to describe the new world.

She's also a stunner and after agonising manfully for several months, Jim decides to sabotage her pod and wake her up. Not the most ethical of moves, but that's men for you.

When she comes to, confused and beautiful, Jim neglects to mention that he deliberately woke her. With little alternative, they become friends and thoughts inevitably turn to funny business. But Arthur the barman's a bit of a blabbermouth and sooner or later, the truth will come out.

Passengers is not the first film to borrow heavily from the plot of Alien, but the mood here is altogether lighter for the most part, which is perhaps part of the problem. The idea that life alone, even on a kind of floating paradise, will soon become unbearable is a novel one, beautifully illustrated by the film's elegant set designs. There are some witty asides: being a working man, Jim is only entitled to yellow-pack food and drink, but when Aurora turns up, she has a gold card and the cappuccinos start flowing.

Resplendent in flowing evening dresses and designer swimming suits, Lawrence completely dominates the film once she arrives, effortlessly knocking every emotional scene she's asked to tackle out of the park.

But she arrives before the script has had time to flesh out Jim as a three-dimensional character, or properly investigate what it really means to be utterly and terminally alone. Pratt is a likeable actor, but despite his best efforts, his character remains frustratingly opaque. He and Lawrence are good together, but she's given more to work with than he is and ends up acting into a vacuum. The script's a bit timid when it comes to the third act and doesn't really make the most of a decent premise. But Passengers is entertaining enough, lovely to look at and there are some ingenious touches, like the moment when gravity fails while Aurora is having a swim, hurling her and a ball of water into the air. And Sheen has plenty of fun as the fastidious Arthur, relishing his bar's resemblance to the one in The Shining and hamming it up ever so slightly.

Films coming soon...

Silence (Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Ciaran Hinds, Shinya Tsukamoto, Issey Ogata); A Monster Calls (Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson, Lewis McDougall, Toby Kebbell, Geraldine Chaplin).

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