In the middle of a 120-year journey, a spacecraft traveling to a distant planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction. As a result, two passengers, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Dunn (Jennifer Lawrence), wake up still 90 years from their destination and are stranded without anyone else on the ship to help them.
That is actually not the entire plot; there is an important detail to the story that is being left out of trailers, so out of respect to the storytellers I am going to leave it out as well. However, there is a contingent of people out there for whom the movie will be ruined by this development. I don’t begrudge that reaction at all; this is a complicated story, but for me that aspect of the plot led to many fascinating themes.
Passengers is simultaneously a romantic drama, a sci-fi thriller, and an action movie –but above all else it is a movie about humanity and morality. In fact, the first part of the movie feels a little like Cast Away as our leads come to grips with being the only people around, and it’s then the movie explores its depths.
But for this movie to work Chris Pratt needs to be likable, REALLY likable, because his character does some evil things in order to survive. Whether you like the movie or not may rest entirely on the performance of Chris Pratt and I think he nails it. There is nothing this guy can do that won’t make you smile. His performances in Parks and Rec, Guardians, and even The Magnificent Seven embolden the people around him and his on-screen presence knows no bounds. When I realized what his character was going to do early in the movie I recoiled, but it was his performance that enables the audience’s empathy.
This movie is the opposite of Star Wars; in fact it feels more like an episode of Star Trek. The story deals more with issues of morality and technology than it does bad guys in capes. Of course there are explosions and exceptional CGI work, but the themes of the movie could work well with a smaller budget and unknown actors, as long as those actors could make the leads almost impossibly likeable. Passengers makes a bold decision in its storytelling and with so many other by-the-book movies out there it is always a pleasant surprise when someone takes a chance. B