Passengers is one of those films that has a fascinating premise which, in the final cut, doesn't really work. Which is a real shame, because all the necessary pieces – interesting ideas, a great cast and superb production design – are in place, they just don't quite fit together properly.
The film is set some time in a future where humans have reached out from Earth and colonised other planets. The starship Avalon – with 5,000 passengers and 120 crew on board, all in suspended animation – is on a 120 year journey to the colony on the planet Homestead II when an asteroid strike causes a systems malfunction that leads to two of the passengers on board being awoken 90 years early. The two of them – New York journalist Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) and mechanic Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) must figure out a way to repair the ship.
Well, that's not quite how it pans out, but to summarise the early events how they really take place would potentially stray into spoiler territory. Yes, there's quite a twist, and said twist is getting a lot of commentators' knickers into a real twist, but for the purposes of review it's best left alone and unspolied for viewers to come to their own conclusions.
Passengers is not a terrible film (as some reviews would have you believe) but it's not a great one either; it has an awful lot of potential, and could have explored some interesting philosophical questions about humanity, but the filmmakers didn't have either the courage or the inclination to go there. Instead it's a decent enough romantic drama with a bit of a sci-fi angle to it. In its favour, it looks beautiful – the set design is spectacular, all the tech is very tactile, and has some wonderful special effects (especially a scene involving Lane swimming in zero gravity). It stars a pair of the best-looking actors in Hollywood today. The performances from both Lawrence and Pratt are spot on, and as the romance develops between the two, there is real chemistry to be seen and felt. There's also a very nice turn from Michael Sheen as the android bartender Arthur, invoking memories of bartender Lloyd from The Shining.
Where the film really falls down is in the massive plothole that crops up early on and never goes away. It's the fact that after a major malfunction on board, there is no way for Preston and Lane to awaken any of the crew (they are all locked away in a part of the ship that passengers cannot access) or contact anyone on Earth for help (the signal will take years to reach the planet, and even more years for the reply to reach the ship). And the fact that a company would send a massive starship with thousands of people on board on a 120-year voyage with no fail-safes or backups? The obvious thing would be to have the crew on a sort of roster system, where a couple of them are awake and looking after the ship for, says, six months at a time, before handing it over to another pair. That would make way more sense. It's also a little unbelievable that once someone is awoken from suspended animation, there is no way to return them to sleep.
Despite that rather obvious flaw (and the unmentioned issue that most critics seem to have with it), Passengers is not a total failure. It's engaging and entertaining for most of its runtime, but falls apart in the final act when it takes a rather conventional and formulaic route to its conclusion. It's such a shame, because Passengers has some great ideas that it fails to explore and the result is much more pedestrian than it should be.