Among the crop of science-fiction films that are getting year-end releases, “Passengers” sits comfortably between the philosophical fog of “Arrival” and the explosive excitement of “Rogue One.” And for sci-fi fans who just want to enjoy a movie that’ll grab and keep your attention, but won’t try to make you think too hard or blow you out of your seat with visual effects, this one is certainly the best of the three.
It opens way, way out in the universe, where an elegant and curvy starship has been cruising through space on autopilot for a long, long time, on its way to Homestead, a colony world where Earth inhabitants can get a new start. The 258 crewmembers and 5,000 passengers aboard have been in hibernation pods that are scheduled to open four months before set-down on Homestead.
And right on schedule, an automatic wake-up injection rouses the first passenger, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) who, though initially foggy, is happy to hear a voice and see the hologram of the person it’s coming from. He’s less happy when he soon realizes that no one else is seeing or hearing anything, that he’s all alone on the vast craft, that his pod — for reasons that take their time being explained — has opened 90 years before it was supposed to.
In what first appears to be a solo show by Pratt, in which his actions and reactions are only met and matched by his own actions and reactions, viewers will wonder where this film could possibly go and if Pratt can pull it off all by his lonesome. The question is can he hold attention by growing a beard, wandering around half-naked, getting drunk, and letting some tears fall — either because of the beauty of deep space or because of his lonely plight. But those thoughts don’t go on too long, because he has some help with the getting drunk part, and shortly after discovering the ship’s bar, he has a companion to talk to and laugh with and get advice from. It’s his friendly android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen), who looks perfectly normal from the waist up, is all mechanical down below, and provides most of the film’s comic relief.
But boredom and sadness still have a grip on Jim, who realizes that he will die on the ship long before anyone else wakes up. Unless ...
Now, everyone in the moviegoing world knows that Jennifer Lawrence is in this film. The poster even gives her top billing. So it’s OK to let out the news that another passenger, Aurora Lane, also wakes up. And soon there are two people swilling down Arthur’s perfect cocktails and slowly getting to know each other, though not in the usual and expected romantic way. They’re very lonely people who are becoming friends.
But one of them has a secret that he or she is keeping from him or her. Everyone watching knows what it is, but no one reading this will get it out of me. And then, oops, another person wakes, only this time it’s crew member Gus Mancuso (Laurence Fishburne). Amidst fantastic production and set design, and just enough visual effects to dazzle but not overwhelm, things are getting interesting around here. Unfortunately, things are also going wrong for the mechanic (Jim), the journalist (Aurora), and the deck chief (Gus). Things like the fact that the ship is showing signs of system failures — think of the idea of gravity control going haywire.
Before long, there’s a lot of drama going on in a ship with so few people aboard. And when certain secrets are disclosed, that drama moves from the physical to the emotional, then back to the physical again.
The script by Jon Spaihts (“Doctor Strange,” “Prometheus”), the direction by Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”) and some marvelous acting turns by the entire small cast, make “Passengers” an original, offbeat, thoughtful and totally entertaining sci-fi experience.
— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written by Jon Spaihts; directed by Morten Tyldum
With Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne