Chris Pratt, whom I loved as Andy Dwyer in the terrific Parks and Recreation, and enjoyed in Guardians of the Galaxy as the snarky Peter Quill, has worn thin on me of late. His movie star shtick, which I would call “Diet Harrison Ford”, has delivered diminishing returns in recent efforts like Jurassic World and The Magnificent Seven remake.
This made Morten Tyldum’s Passengers, which co-stars Jennifer Lawrence and marks Tyldum’s follow up to 2014’s terrific Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game, an intriguing project. The trailers, while still featuring Pratt’s goofy charm, seemed to otherwise mark a departure for the actor.
Passengers follows two passengers on an interplanetary journey from Earth, which has basically become Coruscant from the Star Wars universe, to a greener, more natural world dubbed “Homestead II” that are woken up 30 years into what is supposed to be a 120 year journey. Out of their hibernation state, James Preston (Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Lawrence) will age naturally and die years before their spaceship Avalon reaches its destination.
However, there was a crucial plot element that Sony smartly buried in its marketing for this film. The trailers and posters make this out to be a romantic science-fiction, highlighted by two incredibly attractive people in a slick, special effects laden environment. What they failed to show that Chris Pratt’s Jim is a huge creep at best and a murderer or rapist at worst.
See, in Passengers’ opening moments the Avalon crashes through a giant meteor shower, with one especially large asteroid colliding with the spacecraft causing various malfunctions throughout. One of the damages happens to occur to the hibernation pod Jim is sleeping in, and when he’s woken up it’s purportedly the first time a hibernation pod has ever malfunctioned in the history of the Homestead company that provides these intergalactic cruises.
This only happens to Jim, who wakes up in a panic before settling in and realizing he’s the only person awake on a ship filled with over 5,000 people, and he’s awake 90 years sooner than he was supposed to be. Pratt’s Jim explores all of spaceship’s various entities, which mostly look like a super sleek futuristic mall with hotel rooms, and tries to figure out various ideas to put himself back to sleep or let someone know what has happened.
After a year of failures and exhausting the Avalon’s amenities, Jim struggles to keep his sanity. He has no one to talk to, save a human-like android named Arthur (a terrific Michael Sheen) that serves as the ship’s bartender, and in his boredom he eventually singles out a particularly beautiful woman among the ship’s thousands of residents to fixate on.
Jim stalks this woman, Lawrence’s Aurora, as much as he can after finally deciding that he’s going to wake her up. Jim then proceeds to break her hibernation pod so it wakes her up and he retreats before she sees him so that she thinks her pod malfunctioned as well.
Now remember how Jim is marooned on this spaceship and is all but guaranteed to die before it reaches its destination? He has now ensured that Aurora will face the same hopeless fate as he does. He obviously knows it was not okay, or he wouldn’t have lied to her about how she woke up, and yet he lets her fall in love with him under false pretenses.
There is a certain sympathy you can feel for Jim. If one was stuck alone on a desert island and had the option to bring another human onto it with them what would one do?
However, that still does not make Jim’s actions okay, and the fact that he chose who was likely the most attractive member of the opposite sex on board only makes it worse. Anyone who doesn’t think Jim was envisioning bumping uglies with Aurora when weighing whether to wake her is lying to themselves.
Of course, because this is a Christmas release from a major studio, the film has a plot and crisis in the final act that sort-of legitimize Jim’s sleazy actions. But even through the contrived conflict and resolution I could not buck the lingering thought that Jim is a scumbag. The Hollywood ending is especially unsettling, and does not feel earned or deserved for our “hero”.
In a perfect world, Passengers would have played as a science fiction thriller that shifts perspective from Jim’s to Aurora’s once Aurora realizes that Jim intentionally woke her up. Aurora spends the rest of the film evading Jim and constantly looking over her shoulders, while Jim, becoming increasingly desperate to reconnect with Aurora, eventually kills himself in front of her in dramatic fashion, leaving Aurora to finish her days alone on a journey she’ll never finish.
But we’re not in a perfect world.
Passengers is a well-acted film that’s nice to look at, but the fact that its entire premise hinges on such a fucked up action by its protagonist make it impossible to fully endorse.