4YE’s Big Movie Binge: Passengers (2016)

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Passengers has a plot problem, and it is a huge plot problem. Critics panned it. Audiences hated it. There were many subsequent articles about the film and about how it failed on so many levels. It was all thanks to one enormous plot point that should’ve been left on the cutting room floor.

Nerdwriter1 on YouTube said it best when he said the film would’ve worked best had it been engineered as a space horror film with Chris Pratt being a fully fleshed out villain like he was meant to be. You can watch that video below. The video sums up a lot of my feelings on Passengers. 

It will also provide a jumping point for this entire review. Basically, Passengers isn’t a bad movie. Or, at least, I agree with Nerdwriter1 in thinking it wasn’t a total trainwreck.

Passengers can easily be summarized like this: Jim Preston (Pratt) is woken up 89 years too early on his way to a new Earth called Homestead II. He gets lonely and depressed. Ultimately, he decides to rob Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) of her own life and wakes her up so she can keep him company. He lies to her, makes her fall in love with him, and then the truth comes out as the ship they’re on is about to go boom.

That’s Passengers in a nutshell. Very simple. Very unique. Poorly executed.

As Nerdwriter1 said, the Passengers script is a great tool for writers to use to consider story and story structure. While Lawrence and Pratt’s performances were fantastic (more on that later), the movie would’ve benefitted from telling the story in a different way. The different structure would’ve made the audience think rather than just sit and experience the movie passively. Plus, in addition to the film being poorly structured, there is the whole problem of the Avalon malfunctioning that throws the plot into a wildly different angle. Critics were right in saying that Passengers tried to be three different movies and it didn’t succeed at any of them.

Plot problems aside, Pratt and Lawrence were phenomenal. Where the critics thought they had little to no chemistry, I thought they were great together. They played off of each very well and I thought they were believable as they began to fall in love. Lawrence is full of life and soul. When Aurora finds out about Jim’s deceit, the tension and the fury were palpable.

Pratt is really growing into himself as an actor beyond dramatic roles. The film’s executive produce said in a behind the scenes featurette that Pratt had a big soul and I think that translates well in this film. This film gave him more drama and meat to chew on. He delivered. I want to see him do more of these types of movies. Drama suits him just as much as comedy does, maybe even more.

Besides the plot problem and the fantastic performances, Passenger‘s score, written by Thomas Newman, earned a well deserved Oscar nomination in 2017. While he didn’t win, there’s no doubt that the score is what elevates this film. The score is fantastic from the very first piece to the last. Though, the credit song by Imagine Dragons isn’t the greatest.

Overall, Passengers is uneven. It’s a unique film that failed in its execution and story structure but despite that, it’s not a bad film. It’s still enjoyable. If you can get over the icky, problematic plot point that should’ve never been there to begin with.

Shelby Arnold
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