Posted on Thursday, December 15th, 2016 by Ethan Anderton
Just a few days before Christmas, the sci-fi adventure romance Passengers will hit screens, putting Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence at the center of a story that feels like Titanic in space. While we’ll have to wait a little longer to see this one, some members of the press have already seen the movie ahead of time, and the first Passengers reviews have started to hit the web.
While both Pratt and Lawrence get acclaim for their performances, the consensus seems to be that their talents are wasted on a movie that never quite reaches its full potential, seemingly because director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) doesn’t really know how to keep Jon Spaihts‘ script (which made the Black List years ago) as interesting as it should be on screen.
Sheri Linden at The Hollywood Reporter thinks director Morten Tyldum holds the movie back:
There is, at first, a thrilling what-if in Jon Spaihts’ screenplay, which concocts a sort of Titanic in outer space, with dollops of “Sleeping Beauty” and Gravity thrown into the high-concept mix. Under less shiny, by-the-numbers direction, the story might have soared, or at least been more stirring. Yet while Passengers offers a few shrewd observations about our increasingly tech-enabled, corporatized lives, its heavy-handed mix of life-or-death exigencies and feel-good bromides finally feels like a case of more being less. Whatever the critical consensus, though, the marquee leads are sure to entice moviegoers seeking grown-up action-adventure.
Owen Gleiberman at Variety also found the execution of the interesting concept rather lackluster:
There’s only one place for “Passengers” to go, and once it gets there, Jon Spaihts’s script runs out of gas. Tyldun handles the dialogue almost as if he were doing a stage play, but he turns out to be a blah director of spectacle; he doesn’t make it dramatic. There’s not much to “Passengers” besides its one thin situation, and there are moments when the film could almost be “a very special episode of ‘Star Trek,’” because Pratt, with his golden-boy smirk, has a Kirkian side, and the voyage they’re on is grandiose yet amorphous (like the Enterprise’s). The ship itself has a variety of chambers and communal spaces, but it all seems overly familiar and sterile. What’s lackluster about “Passengers” isn’t just that the movie is short on surprise, but that it’s like a castaway love story set in the world’s largest, emptiest shopping mall in space.
Andrew Pulver at The Guardian praises Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, but says the film holds them back:
Passengers’ preoccupation with its romcom chops means that, despite all the fancy electronics and stark minimalist design, actual peril is in short supply. Even the showpiece scene where Lawrence is engulfed by swimming-pool water after the shipboard gravity fails is a nicely realised idea, but never remotely is [her] emergence from the water, hair slightly ruffled, ever in doubt.
On the positive side, Lawrence’s apparently boundless screen charisma survives pretty much intact: she is an unmistakably vivid presence here in a way that few current performers can match. Pratt is a less radiant presence but offers a natural decency that offsets the aforementioned stalker-creepiness. But neither can do much with that fateful initial premise: it means that Passengers, unfortunately, has suffered irreparable damage to its own engine casing.
Kate Erbland at IndieWire also laments the waste of Lawrence and Pratt in the leads:
At the very least, the feature — marketed as a kind of “‘Titanic’ in space” love epic with a big, shocking twist — should be far more entertaining than the flat-footed, loosely assembled result. And that’s to say nothing of the icky questions of consent that run through its central narrative, only to be brushed aside by the film’s iffy conclusion.
Even more disappointing than the squandered talent at hand is that “Passengers” frequently lets slip moments of brief brilliance, from Spaihts’ canny world-building to the charming repartee between Pratt and Lawrence, and even a production design that breathes new life into the often-tired sci-fi genre. Spaihts has reportedly been fighting to get this project — originally intended as a Keanu Reeves vehicle — made for years, and while the eventual casting of such big stars as Lawrence and Pratt should have been the final piece in a beleaguered production, it only further highlights the film’s missteps.
Robert Abele at The Wrap says that the character drama never quite matters and the blockbuster spectacle feels uninspired:
The save-the-ship mayhem is not only routinely rendered, but the operatically emotional rehabilitation mechanics are almost comical, and come with more iffy motivations when everything ultimately plays out. Even HAL the computer got more of a chance to explain himself in “2001: A Space Odyssey” than ever gets hashed out here between Jim and Aurora.
Though a queasy mess as a love story, “Passengers” is gorgeous, with rich visual effects ranging from resplendent to amusing, and cinematography from Rodrigo Prieto (“Silence”) that’s never dull despite being mostly shipbound. In other words, as a big sci-fi entertainment, it hardly feels like a movie about the problems of two emotionally desperate people in a crazy situation, and therein lies the problem. Like the omnipresent corporation whose tricked-out vessel offers the slickest of niceties as it goes from point A to point B, “Passengers” is first and foremost a commercial endeavor, and lastly a tale of human malfunction.
Chris Nashawaty at Entertainment Weekly really despised the film, mostly because he doesn’t think we get the movie that the trailers have teased. But to explain that he dives into spoilers, so we’ll let you read the spoiler-free beginning:
The signs to be hopeful were all there: A pair of dependable movie stars, a bullish Oscar-season spot on the release calendar, a director hot off of an Oscar-nominated film. But alas, Passengers is not very good. In fact, it’s pretty bad. The studio is positioning this new Chris Pratt-Jennifer Lawrence sci-fi flick as a sort of Adam-and-Eve riff on The Martian. Two passengers on a space ship headed to a distant colony called Homestead II are woken up 90 years before they should be. Something with their hibernation pods goes wrong and now they’re stranded together and alone. They have to figure out a way to survive – and if sparks fly while they’re hurtling through space, well, all the better. That’s the way the trailer makes it seem, at least. And I’ll be honest, that’s a movie I’d kind of want to see. But that’s not what we get. Not even close. Passengers is way stupider than that.
Scott Mendelson at Forbes isn’t quite as harsh on the movie in his review:
Passengers works as flashy, adult-skewing popcorn entertainment that stands apart from the pack. It has moments of action and peril, but it is mostly a drama that evolves into a grim romance that quite comitt to being “about” its most interesting subject matter. It works because the film is gorgeous to look at, because its two top-billed stars command our attention, and because achieves enough of a rooting interest so that we care about the outcome. It starts better than it ends, and it gives short shrift to its most interesting subject matter, but it is good enough as a Saturday night at the movies option.
James Dyer at Empire likes the film more than most it seems:
Unorthodox the setting might be, but the blossoming romance is entirely familiar — from bantering over lunch to sharing a box of popcorn at the cinema. It just happens to play out within the glossy white halls of a starship resembling an Apple-sponsored shopping mall. Pratt and Lawrence are magnetic as the literal star-crossed lovers, convincingly seduced by each other over the passage of time; an awkward, space-suit-bumping kiss giving way to a passionate, Cheerios-all-over-the-floor breakfast shag.
Passengers is as surprisingly traditional as it is undeniably effective. A timeless romance wedded to a space-age survival thriller, it may be a curious coupling but Tyldum’s Turing follow-up is a journey well worth taking.
Tom Huddleston (who we promise isn’t Tom Hiddleston in a bad disguise) at Time Out writes:
This interstellar sci-fi misfire dreams up one of the most intriguing ‘what would you do?’ scenarios in recent movie memory – and takes it precisely nowhere.
But for the most part ‘Passengers’ is so anodyne, so frightened of the ethically troubling opportunities inherent in the setup that it just ends up feeling forgettable and silly. Made with half the budget by a filmmaking team wiling to take a few risks, this could have been sharp, sadistic and special. As it is, you’ll be longing for a nice nap yourself by the end.
The reviews in general give Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence where credit is due for doing the best they can with the material they’re given. The problem doesn’t appear to be the script by Jon Spaihts, though it does gloss over some potentially more fascinating ideas as more of the story is revealed, but rather the bland direction of Morten Tyldum who wastes a wholly interesting, original idea. Perhaps a smaller budget approach to a movie like this would have been better.
One part of the movie that gets unanimous praise is Michael Sheen as the robotic bartender we’ve seen in the trailer. Some even called him the only bright spot in the movie. So at the very least, we know that part of the movie will be entertaining.
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