Review: Passengers Stays Afloat on the Chemistry of its Leads

By Valerie Kalfrin · December 24, 2016

The considerable charisma and chemistry of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence keep the sci-fi adventure Passengers afloat, even if the script easily fixes its most fascinating problems.


On the surface, a story about two travelers who awaken hypersleep from almost 90 years too early on the way to colonize another planet is rife with intrigue. What happened? And why these two? How will they survive alone all that time?


But the film, directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) from a script by Jon Spaihts (2012’s Prometheus, 2016’s Doctor Strange), only dips its toes into these potential quandaries instead of plunging into the deep end of the pool. Conflicts handily resolve without much change in the characters. The story also doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be a poignant romance, a comedy, or a taut space adventure and mixes parts of all three.


Some moments might remind viewers of WALL-E, the 2008 Oscar-winning Disney Pixar film, and not just because Thomas Newman composed the scores for each. Instead of a handy robot left alone on Earth who falls for a sleek robot out of his league while humans rest on a luxurious spaceship, we have a handy engineer who awakens on a luxurious spaceship filled with hibernating colonists, including one who seems out of his league. Cute, quirky robots run everything aboard, from vacuuming and serving as waitstaff to flying and repairing the ship during its long journey.


That is, until a malfunction in his sleep capsule awakens Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). An engineer by trade, Jim signed on as one of 5,000 passengers to colonize a world called Homestead II, located 120 years away from Earth. Panic and confusion initially set in until Jim—buoyed by a conversational bartending robot named Arthur (Michael Sheen)—tries to enjoy the hand he’s been dealt by doing whatever he likes.


That freedom soon wears thin, though, and Jim sinks into despair. Pratt, a relatable funnyman on TV’s Parks and Recreation who broke into leading-man status as the loopy space jockey in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, can’t quite carry off Jim’s depression. But his likeability helps immensely once Jim faces a real dilemma.


There’s no way to discuss this without spoiling the first-act twist, so here goes: Jim catches sight of Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), a writer asleep in her own capsule, and decides to awaken her for company. He wrestles with this, knowing he’s effectively condemning her to die aboard the ship, as they’ll never reach the colony world in their lifetimes. But to Pratt’s credit, Jim seems less of a creep and more a genuinely good person who couldn’t live with such protracted isolation. Even Tom Hanks in Castaway needed Wilson, or he’d have lost his mind.


Jim and Aurora subsequently fall in love, although he knows he should tell her he woke her up—but that’s just one of the many obstacles conveniently overcome. There’s a thornier plot here where Jim isn’t an engineer with his own tools and mechanical know-how who has to learn how to survive on his own. Or he and Aurora can’t stand each other. Or one of them went on this trip with a spouse or significant other still asleep before being attracted to the other person. Or their being awake doesn’t ultimately turn out to be a good thing.


The design of the ship itself and the interstellar scenery are striking, and Lawrence is an intelligent and endearing presence. She and Pratt strike real sparks, making Passengers a pleasant enough diversion, but it could have been so much more.