A contender for one of the most misleading trailers of the year, Passengers is not so much about Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence tootling about the cosmos on a broken ship. Rather, it’s about one man’s selfish decision to doom a woman he fancies by prematurely yanking her out of her hyperspace sleeping pod for some company.
This is Castaway amidst the stars, if Tom Hanks had had the ability to click his fingers and summon an innocent person to be stranded on the desert island with him. When an interstellar space-barge en route to a new Earth ferrying 5,000 cryogenically snoozing passengers gets bonked by a rogue asteroid, a single sleeping pod malfunctions and spits out its confused occupant, engineer Jim Preston (Pratt), a full 90 years before it was designed to.
With no way to go back to sleep and no means of rescue, the increasingly unhinged loner opts to pull writer Aurora (Lawrence) out of her slumber early. It’s an alarming act of desperation and cruelty that follows just 12 months of rattling about in this massive empty ship with nobody but an android bartender (Michael Sheen) for company. He does this having essentially stalked her for a number of months, rifling through her diary entries and pawing at the window of her pod like a Victorian orphan outside a sweet shop.
And so begins a love story predicated on an outrageous act of perversion and betrayal, and set aboard what appears to be a giant floating Westfield shopping centre.
The ship’s exterior design is a stunning piece of science-fiction eye candy: a set of double-helix wings rotating about a central rod that looks precarious, threadlike and fragile.
The film looks generally glorious, too, with high-budget special effects powering a few spectacular zero-gravity sequences.
But for all the character’s cogitating, Preston’s decision to pop open Aurora’s pod left me with an uncomfortable sense of disgust that stained the rest of the movie, the plot of which then clumsily tries to sketch out some kind of redemptive arc for the guy. This isn’t a film about a broken spaceship, but a broken person driven by isolation to do something terrible to a stranger.
And when the penny inevitably drops the script shifts down a gear, turning from a provocative and intelligent sci-fi short story into an epic space survival adventure flick.
Passengers is an enjoyable enough watch in both of its guises, but had it the courage to follow through on some of the uncomfortable questions it raises, it could have been a much better film. As it is, Passengers feels a little compromised by shady-uncle levels of creepy.