Passengers has to be the product of studio manipulation. There is absolutely no other way for this movie to exist in the state it does. The first 70% of this movie is a great piece of science fiction/horror that asks extremely dire questions about humanity, masculinity, and desperation. In the space of 10 minutes, the movie goes haywire, becoming an ultimate gearshift movie where you can almost see the exact scene that somebody demanded changes to the original screenplay and we end up with…this.
5000 passengers and 238 crew are in stasis on board the luxury
cruise space ship Avalon to go populate a far off planet named Homestead II. About 30 years into a 120-year journey, the ship, set to autopilot, hits an asteroid field, causing damage to the ship and waking up one single solitary passenger, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). With no extra beds to hibernate in, Preston is doomed to spend the rest of his life on a gigantic cruise ship with only an android bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), to keep him company.
A few months into his journey, he starts stalking the computer profiles of Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), another female passenger in hibernation. After much deliberation, desperate for human interaction, he sabotages her bed dooming her to live and die on the cruise ship with him. For the first year, they have a passionate romance learning to love each other in this luxury hotel flying through space.
The cruise ship is a character unto itself. The main concourse has echoes of retro-future modernist design popularized in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, echoed for the next 50 years through visual media as disparate as Wall-E and Doctor Who. Pratt swims in a gravity pool that runs in a giant observation bubble. There’s a separate observation deck straight out of Doctor Who‘s The End of the World. A holographic version of Just Dance echoes images from Black Mirror. The bridge and pods echo Ridley Scott’s Alien. The bar where Arthur holds court is a deliberate echo of the bar in Kubrick’s The Shining, right down to Arthur’s red tuxedo. Slowly, bit by bit, the ship malfunctions, trapping Aurora and Jim on a luxury prison crumbling around them. This situation is made worse when Arthur tells Aurora that Jim sabotaged her bed.
What would you do if you were trapped in a malfunctioning hotel with the one person who killed your dreams? Would you forgive him if he was the last man
on Earth in your reality? What if he had control over the cameras and could watch you jogging around ship? What if he could also spend his time apologizing over the ship’s intercom system? The hotel starts looking closer to a prison, exasperated by the suicidal cleaning robots and malfunctioning elevators. It’s such a dark, horrific idea, and director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) knows he’s making a horror movie…
Did I mention that the first 2.2 acts of this movie are great? This movie is a gearshift film made of such epic hilarious failure. Just after Aurora attempts to kill Jim while he’s sleeping, the ship wakes up a Gus (Lawrence Fishburne), a bridge captain who has access to the malfunctioning bridge and engine rooms. Suddenly this horror movie of being trapped with the person who literally took your life away for his own selfish purposes becomes a Save The Ship sci-fi spectacular, complete with a token doomed black guy. Fishburne walks into the movie just long enough to tell these two nitwits that they have a very short time to fix the ship and then coughs up blood and dies, but not before handing them his authorization bracelet that grants them super access to the ship and its computers.
In order to save the 4998 remaining passengers, these two have to work together to find the problem and repair the ship. All of the horror and stalking and killing that immediately preceded? That’s erased by the high pressure sci-fi action final act that rolls out every single cliche so the affable hunk can get the girl. First, there was token doomed black guy. There’s a Ticking Clock. A moment of great self-sacrifice, and a rescue mission. It feels like the original third act was thrown out the window and replaced by the most rote exercise from a first year screenwriting student.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie fall apart so completely in such a short amount of time. I just…writing this the next morning, my eyes are bugging out of their head, and my jaw is on the floor as I’m trying to fathom what the hell happened to this movie. Was there a third act where Aurora kills Jim, and is forced to live alone on the ship…only to become so desperate that she wakes up another crew member? Is there a third act where they reconcile as the ship disintegrates around them, killing the passengers as well? Is there a third act where the ship is haunted?
By the end of the movie, I couldn’t stop laughing. Even Pratt and Lawrence know what movie they’re in by the end, acting as hard as they can through some of the worst dialogue in existence. It becomes one of those movies you see in satires of the Oscars where every cliche is hit, the scenery is being chewed at alarming rates (we may get Fat Pratt back just based on these calories alone), and the movie strains for the maximal heart-soaring pulse-pounding ending no matter how terrible it may be.
Here’s the worst part…it becomes a Mr. Nice Guy jerk off fantasy. Chris Pratt, so lonely and desperate he just wanted a female companion that he traps one on this ship with him. They live a life of romance until she discovers the truth. But, she forgives him because of how brave, selfless and heroic he is in the big action finale. He even offers to put her under in the medical bed, which has a hibernation function, and she chooses to live her life with him! It’s true love, you guys!!! It even ends with an Imagine Dragons song set to 3D screensaver images of galaxies while the credits roll.
Ohhhhh, fuck this movie right in its ear. And yet, it’s so damn good. The first 80 minutes are genuinely a great piece of slow-burn horror where you watch a woman fall in love with a guy and wondering what will happen if she discovers that he’s actually her captor. The final 35 are genuinely a great series of morally reprehensible action movie cliches that will either makes you laugh at its desperation or weep for humanity (or both). But, it’s never not entertaining. It’s relatively gorgeous. It’s well acted until its overacted. People actually cared about this movie, and I can’t recommend this enough as a great piece of seriously delusionally awful art. It may be the most I’ve laughed all season.