Imagine being trapped on a spaceship with only your lover and a robot bartender for nearly a century — there isn’t a spaceship big enough, or a bar that well-stocked, to make that sound appealing. This is the issue at the center of the ostensibly romantic sci-fi drama “Passengers.”
While romance is the intended effect, the film’s premise carries some seriously creepy undercurrents about bodily autonomy, consent and stalking. But these issues are all breezily glossed over with the sex appeal of stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.
The spaceship is the Avalon, 30 years into a 120-year autopilot journey to the planet colony Homestead II with 5,000 passengers on board, encased in pods that keep them in a state of suspended animation. The pod of Jim Preston (Pratt) malfunctions after a meteor hits, and he wakes up a full 90 years early. The ship remains frustratingly on autopilot, and no amount of helpful robots can put Jim back into suspended animation. The pods never fail, they claim.
Unable to engineer himself back into suspended animation, Jim partakes of the lavish accommodations the ship has to offer, which all grow tiresome after a year. He descends into a drunken, pants-less, suicidal depression, until he spots the lithe figure of Aurora Lane (Lawrence) in her pod, and develops a crush.
He checks out her profile, reads her writing (she’s a journalist), eats cereal next to her. Though he wrestles with the decision, he ultimately decides to wake up his dream girl, effectively dooming her to a life and death aboard this spaceship. Since he’s the only available guy to date, they fall in love — until she learns what he did, and is enraged.
The quandary of being stuck on a spaceship with only your ex and a robot bartender (Michael Sheen) is quickly tossed aside for high-stakes action as the ship starts to malfunction. As they troubleshoot, the film takes on the tenor of a high-stakes version of yelling at an iPad or trying to bypass an automated phone menu.
A rather intriguing premise, replete with meaty themes — time as a prison, class, colonialism, artificial intelligence — is thrown aside to focus on sexy space fun times, turning Jim’s morally reprehensible choice into a meet-cute love story for the ages. Wouldn’t this be a more interesting movie if Aurora were the subject, not the object? But this is Jim’s story, not hers; we’re supposed to sympathize with this nice guy who fell in love with her mind, or so he claims.
Director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Jon Spaihts could have created something darker and more complex with the materials at hand. Instead, it’s all French robot waiters and Champagne cocktails and sex in the cafeteria. “Hell of a life,” Aurora admits, conceding that the space pool is pretty awesome.