It seems like December has become the hot month for space adventures. 2013 saw Gravity's release (which cleaned up in awards season). Interstellar followed suit in 2014. Then, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens almost broke the box office in 2015. This year is no different. In fact, there is an opportunity for two triumphs in the space-adventure genre with both Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the original film Passengers releasing just a week apart.
Rogue One has already satisfied critics and fans alike, earning impressive approval ratings and hauling in over $150 million in its opening weekend. The massive numbers stem not only from critical approval, but also being the eighth big screen installment to the world's largest movie franchise. Passengers does not have the latter luxury. A likely one-off film from Sony Pictures takes Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence on a journey through the emptiness of space but bravely fills it with the questionable launch of an insterstellar love affair and just enough science language to fit into a sci-fi genre. Blending theose two main elements of Passengers helps the film journey into enjoyably courageous questions of human nature.
Pratt's Jim Preston character finds himself aboard the Avalon space ship 90 years ahead his planned awakening. Guaranteed to die before the ship arrives on Homestead II (a new planet being cultivated for human life), he faces the daunting dilemma between suicide, insanity, and companionship, as spends over a year in an over-sized solitary confinement.
It is when Lawrence's Aurora Lane character, a journalist looking for the biggest story in history: traveling 250 years into the future to see various generations of life on multiple planets, wakes up when the real fun begins. A chemistry builds between the characters as they accept their inevitable fate of riding this ship to the end of their worlds. Not only was the chemistry apparent between the characters, but it can be seen between the actors throughout.
A major factor -- a question of morality on behalf of Pratt's Jim -- presents a major monkey wrench in the engineer's plans with his newfound space girlfriend. When the issue at hand comes to light, the questions of human nature and conscious decisions become present as both writer Jonathan Spaihts and the actors portray the following events in a manner which can be perceived as more horrifyingly accurate than some would like to admit. Debates walking out of the theater will burst out as people question what they, themselves, would have done in situation, likely reluctant to admit they would follow suit.
One area Spaihts may have needed a boost for Passengers was his dialogue. A number of exchanges between two of the only three characters in the film were among some of cinema's most cliche. It's the lesson George Lucas and Natalie Portman learned from the infamous "Anakin, you're breaking my heart!" all over again, only it happens more than once in this space adventure. The ambiguous dialogue is far from enough to slow down the other elements of Passengers, however.
Director Morten Tyldum keeps the movie at a welcome pace.
In a day which films have learned to rely heavily on humor to carry them (see: most Marvel Studios productions), Passengers tosses a healthy dose of chuckles into the mix through various components of the ship and Pratt's natural ability to bring laughs but never is it too much to lose focus. Instead, the film pairs the character driven story with a few intense action sequences to make our palms sweat as the characters appear to be truly in danger, several times.
Be it Aurora trapped in a bubble of water in a gravity free moment or Jim braving outer space in an effort make repairs, we've seen similar sequences before at the movies but they are well applied in Passengers through our attachment to these two hopeless adventurers.
Passengers is not reinventing the space-adventure film this winter but it provides a sometimes-scary and thought-provoking escape for moviegoers. It's a brave mix between an intriguing, objectionable love story and science fiction. When the final product of their combination comes out as a standalone film, Passengers is one of the best of the year in such a category.
Bottom Line: Passengers is a compelling, thought-provoking trip to a claustrophobic space. 8.8/10