Take two of the biggest movie stars on the planet, make them the leads of a movie directed by someone fresh off his first Oscar nomination for directing an Oscar-winning Best Picture nominee, give them a $110 million budget, and a script that was near the top of Hollywood’s annual Blacklist of the best unproduced scripts on the market, with a premise that sees the two popular, conventionally attractive leads stranded alone together in outer space (a very in vogue concept at the moment after Gravity and The Martian), and have them fall in love. Sounds like the recipe for a major hit, right? Well, what all of these ingredients led to instead was Passengers, one of the worst movies of this or any year. So where did it all go wrong?
You can put some of the blame on the stars, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, whose wooden, passionless performances make it seem like they’ve never heard of the concept of charisma or screen presence. Some of it can go to director Morten Tyldum, whose knack for creativity, precision and sheer entertainment value in his directing seems to be conversely related to how high his budget goes – the more money put into a film, the less he seems to care. Some of it can even go to the production team, with a bland and unoriginal set design that feels like it was made up of discarded parts left over from other, much better films set in outer space. Ultimately though, the meat of the responsibility for the cataclysmic disaster that is Passengers belongs to the script from Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange), a new nadir representing how little credibility that annually touted Blacklist actually has. Some of the scripts from the list have led to great films (The Social Network, The Wolf of Wall Street), but Passengers joins the ranks of Red Riding Hood and All About Steve (really) as utterly heinous creations derived from what are supposedly some of the “best” scripts out there. The most insane thing here is that the original script, the one that made it onto the Blacklist, is somehow even worse than the one that they used to shoot the film! Which is saying a lot, because Passengers starts bad and only gets a whole lot worse by the time it reaches its stupefying finale.
Beyond the fact that the script for Passengers is loaded with recycled ideas, very poor backstory (Pratt’s character has literally zero history or inner life, and his only defining trait seems to be that he’s a mechanic, and Lawrence’s doesn’t fare much better), and absolutely no sense of awareness of its own storytelling universe, the movie is doomed from conception by a core idea that makes it one of the most repugnant and irresponsible movies ever made. No spoilers here, but an event at the end of the first act (which the trailers make out to be the BIG REVEAL of the whole movie), paints events in a shockingly loathsome light where it becomes impossible to invest in this story the way that the movie wants you to. Now this didn’t have to entirely derail the film, as they could have gone into a dark, incredibly interesting direction that explored the characters in a far more meaningful way. What they do instead, however, is implausibly pepper over this atrocious development with a lazy and generic third act, which then becomes even worse by not only refusing to condemn the problematic issue, but actively leaning into it and treating this as if it is the grand epic romance of our time. Passengers so transparently wants to be the new Titanic, but with the way this thing is written it’s like if the romantic heroes of Titanic at the end were Kate Winslet and Billy Zane’s characters. Except somehow it’s even worse. This isn’t just a bad movie – it’s morally reprehensible, and deeply troubling that everyone thought that this was an acceptable way to treat this story and sell it to the masses.
Michael Sheen, writer Jon Spaihts, Jennifer Lawrence, director Morten Tyldum and Chris Pratt attend ‘photo call for Columbia Pictures’ 'Passengers’ at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on December 9, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.