Passengers Early Reviews: A Shiny Mess of a Space Adventure

Passengers (2016) Poster - cropped

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is that most buzzed-about sci-fi tentpole arriving in theaters in the final month of 2016 - but it's not the only one. Sony Pictures will release its own space adventure, Passengers, in theaters less than a week after Rogue One hits the scene. Passengers headliners Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence have been doing their part to promote the film ahead of its theatrical release, based on the idea that the collective starpower of the Guardians of the Galaxy/Jurassic World and The Hunger Games/X-Men franchise stars (respectively) will help ensure a solid turnout for Passengers at the box office, despite competition from a new Star Wars movie.

Passengers, which is based on an original script written by Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange), takes place in the semi-distant future onboard the Avalon: a spaceship that is transporting some 5,000 people - being kept alive in hibernation chambers - to a distant mining planet, on a voyage that will take 120 years to complete. However, thirty years into the space voyage, two passengers (Pratt and Lawrence) wake up and must face the prospect of having to live the rest of their lives alone, on the Avalon. The first wave of reviews for Passengers have now arrived and they focus in particular on a key plot point that was not included in either the above plot summary or the marketing for Passengers in general.

That said: those concerned about SPOILERS for Passengers need not worry about reading the following Passengers reviews excerpts (see below), all of which are SPOILER-FREE. Those who click on the corresponding links to the full reviews, be warned: a number of them do touch upon the film's secrets.

Passengers - Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence

THR - Sheri Linden

There is, at first, a thrilling what-if in Jon Spaihts’ screenplay, which concocts a sort of Titanic in outer space, with dollops of “Sleeping Beauty” and Gravity thrown into the high-concept mix. Under less shiny, by-the-numbers direction, the story might have soared, or at least been more stirring. Yet while Passengers offers a few shrewd observations about our increasingly tech-enabled, corporatized lives, its heavy-handed mix of life-or-death exigencies and feel-good bromides finally feels like a case of more being less.

Variety - Owen Gleiberman

“Passengers” is the tale of a lonely guy in space, the drama of an ethical conundrum, a love story featuring two of the hottest actors on the planet, and a turbulent sci-fi action-adventure — and for all of that, it manages to be not a very good movie. The two stars, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, are both intensely gifted and easy on the eyes, and the film takes off from a not-bad idea, but the setup is way better than the follow-through.["The Imitation Game" director Morten Tyldum] turns out to be the wrong filmmaker for an amorous space opera.

The Guardian - Andrew Pulver

On the positive side, Lawrence’s apparently boundless screen charisma survives pretty much intact: she is an unmistakably vivid presence here in a way that few current performers can match. Pratt is a less radiant presence but offers a natural decency that offsets [his character's] creepiness. But neither can do much with [the film's] fateful initial premise: it means that Passengers, unfortunately, has suffered irreparable damage to its own engine casing.

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in Passengers

IndieWire - Kate Erbland

At the very least, ["Passengers"] should be far more entertaining than the flat-footed, loosely assembled result. And that’s to say nothing of the icky questions of consent that run through its central narrative, only to be brushed aside by the film’s iffy conclusion. Even more disappointing than the squandered talent at hand is that “Passengers” frequently lets slip moments of brief brilliance, from [writer Jon] Spaihts’ canny world-building to the charming repartee between Pratt and Lawrence, and even a production design that breathes new life into the often-tired sci-fi genre.

The Wrap - Robert Abele

[The] new interplanetary action romance “Passengers,” buffed to a high-tech gloss by “The Imitation Game” director Morten Tyldum, takes an intriguing construct about existential loneliness among the stars, and introduces a moral peril it has no interest in treating intelligently or realistically, despite the presence of two capable leads in Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.... After the dramatic heft that expensive entertainments “Gravity” and “The Martian” so thrillingly offered up about humankind and the cosmos, “Passengers” winds up a thoroughly misguided rocket to nowhere.

EW - Chris Nashaway

The signs to be hopeful were all there: A pair of dependable movie stars, a bullish Oscar-season spot on the release calendar, a director hot off of an Oscar-nominated film. But alas, Passengers is not very good. In fact, it’s pretty bad. The studio is positioning this new Chris Pratt-Jennifer Lawrence sci-fi flick as a sort of Adam-and-Eve riff on The Martian... That’s the way the trailer makes it seem, at least.  And I’ll be honest, that’s a movie I’d kind of want to see. But that’s not what we get. Not even close. Passengers is way stupider than that.

Passengers (2016) - Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence

Many of the reviews for Passengers take the time to highlight the film's better qualities - including, the performances from its leads and impressive production design - yet most every one of them so far seems to agree that the writing by Spaihts and direction by Morten Tyldum (director of the Oscar-winning biopic The Imitation Game) are lackluster on the whole. Even the few more-positive reviews (see the excerpt included below) admit that Passengers doesn't offer a compelling human story and/or wrestle with the deeper implications of its premise, to the degree that other, original, big-budget sci-fi films released over the past few years have.

Forbes - Scott Mendelson

In a less brand and tentpole-centric time, Passengers would be… well, a movie. The picture is under much pressure to perform because it’s an original, star-driven genre film in an IP franchise era, starring two very famous movie stars with questionable drawing power outside the comforts of franchise fare. But stripping all of that away, and the Morten Tyldum-directed/Jon Spaihts-written sci-fi romance is just a movie. It’s most entertaining, it splashes its alleged $120 million budget on the screen, and it offers plenty of surface value entertainment, even if it dances around the thematics of its core narrative.

The short of it: unless the story changes significantly hereon forward, it sounds as though Passengers won't be joining the ranks of Gravity, The Martian and this year's Arrival as part of the "Golden Age" of mainstream science-fiction films that has emerged over the past four years. That doesn't bode well for the movie's box office prospects either, seeing as it has to compete for attention from moviegoers with not only Rogue One, but other tentpoles (like Assassin's Creed) - and the many awards-season contending films that are now playing in semi-wide releases, too. Passengers may turn out to be one $120 million "gamble" that doesn't pan out well for Sony, as a result.

Source: Various [see the above links]

Key Release Dates
  • Passengers (2016) release date: Dec 21, 2016
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