Friday, December 30, 2016
Passengers: A Review (Review #877)
Lust In Space...
A lot of criticism has been directed at Passengers, and I can see the where and why of that criticism. The film itself is flawed, with some central questions skipped over. That being said, it has some positives that barely eke out a slightly good time.
The spaceship Avalon is carrying 5,000 people to a new planet, Homestead II, where they will start again. They are in suspended animation, asleep until four months before they arrive. A space storm has awoken one of those passengers: working-class mechanic James Preston (Chris Pratt). Jim is startled to awaken, and worse, finds that he's been awakened ninety years too early. He will die before anyone else wakes, and this fills him with dread.
What's he going to do for all those years? He's got the run of the ship, so decides to use it as his own private playground. That's a bit hard to do since he isn't a Gold Class member (even in deep space in the future, there is a One Percent). Still, with a little ingenuity he can watch the movies he wants, drink to his heart's content (whisky, courtesy of the bartender robot named Arthur, played by Michael Sheen), and even walk around naked (giving us all a look at Chris Pratt's ass, which was described to me by the person who went to see Passengers as his 'luscious ass', though whether he was being sincere or facetious I don't know).
After a year of this, with 89 more to go, Jim is growing desperate, maybe a little insane. He soon starts stalking the sleeping figure of Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), whom he reads about and becomes obsessed with. She is a Gold Class member, a journalist who wants to write about her adventures on Homestead II. Jim struggles with the idea of waking her up (yes, waking Sleeping Beauty, and that should knock points off for being too on the nose). Arthur can't give him much advise, but he's always there, polishing his glass, to lend an ear. After some struggle, he decides that The Monster should have a Mate.
When you look like C-Pratt and J-Law, that's not hard to do. Please, even I'D be tempted by either of them, but I digress.
Deciding to make the best of the situation, she soon starts writing about her time on Avalon in the hopes that it is read when the others awaken, and soon Aurora and Jim begin a passionate affair. Just as Jim is about to present a ring to her (which I figure means marriage), Arthur tells Aurora about how Jim struggled to awake her, and she grows enraged at his deception and how he has essentially condemned her to an early death.
She breaks off the affair and a cold war erupts between the bitter Aurora and the guilt-ridden Jim. They still have to share the Avalon, and it looks like they will live out their lives apart, until the ship starts having malfunctions. Enter Gus Mancuso (Laurence Fishbourne), the Chief Deck Officer who, unsurprisingly, has been awoken two years after Jim.
Seriously, the corporation that made this thing is pretty inept.
Gus, whose recovery is not going well, lives just long enough to give them information about the ship (and access to the bridge and medical facilities). The Avalon begins to shut down, the damage from two years past finally getting at all the ship. Jim decides he needs to save the ship (and everyone else on board). It's now that Aurora sees that she was wrong in blaming Jim and urges him not to leave her, but he must do his duty.
Will Jim and Aurora save the Avalon? Will they survive?
Passengers, I thought, was really three movies in one. The first part is a Robinson Crusoe/Omega Man type story, with Jim forced to live on his own without anyone with him, save a robot bartender. The second is Lust In Space, a romance built on a lie, a terrible lie, but one that has no way of being remotely kind. The third is your typical action film, where the hero and Aurora, our damsel in distress, must save themselves and the ship from ultimate calamity.
None of the three, mashed into one by director Morten Tyldum, is particularly good, though for different reasons. Interstellar Omega Man isn't good because of Chris Pratt (whom I now call Flatt Pratt). He's a likeable enough presence, and yes, pretty luscious, but when forced to act on his own, with no one to work with, he is always blank. Chris Pratt, I continue to maintain, is a good action star, but he is not an actor. He's certainly not a deep enough or good enough actor to carry a film with just himself. I genuinely shudder to think if he ever tried something like a Give 'Em Hell, Harry! or any other one-man show that wasn't about him. When he isn't sharing a scene with Sheen (whom he could at least work with), Pratt looks dazed and confused, unable to express any genuine emotions (apart perhaps from insanity).
Lust in Space isn't good because first off, Aurora. Just the name from Jon Spaihts' script is just so nakedly allegorical that it almost goads the audience to sneer at it. A lot of variables have to work in order to make the Aurora/Jim story work. What if Aurora didn't like Jim (hard to believe given that it IS Chris Pratt, but there must be someone who doesn't like him in a friend or erotic way)? What if Aurora were a lesbian? What if she were a snob? What if she was too emotionally devastated to move on, or suicidal, or a psychopathic killer?
Moreover, while the ethical questions Passengers raises on the morality of Jim's actions are hinted at, they aren't fully addressed, thanks to Attack of the Meteors, the third film in Passengers. Not only do we have a very, very convenient third character awakening (there for both information dump and provide much-needed tools to come along at the right moment) but also because it then becomes a regular action film. Granted, this is where Pratt is best: the strong man who can save us all, but there is something slightly off about how Aurora (geez, how I HATE that name) pretty much forgives him after all that.
Apparently, the now-retiring Sheen is the only one who does anything worth mentioning, and he played a robot. Make that what you will. Fishbourne wasn't there long enough to be anything other than Exposition.
A few times during Passengers, I kept wondering if reworking or tinkering with story would have made for a more interesting film. Would it have been better to start with Aurora rather than Jim waking up (making his reveal/betrayal more shocking)? Given that the trailer misleads us into thinking like she did, that the awakening was simultaneous, I wonder if we were deliberately deceived. What if a group of people were awakened and there grew a struggle for power, a bit of Lord of the Flies From the Hearts of Space?
I kept wondering why Jim didn't wake up others, or try for the crew. Why did he focus on one particular person (making him a bit of a stalker)?
Despite this, I couldn't bring myself to hate Passengers. It is quite beautiful to look at (and no, that isn't a Chris Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence comment), and it has a wonderful score by Thomas Newman.
No, Passengers isn't a particularly good film. It has problems and issues that do appear papered over, and the third act appears to be there because no one could figure out what to do after the big reveal, so they had to throw in 'ship in peril' ironically enough to save the film. Still, I was entertained, I didn't hate it, and for some free time one could do worse.