Science-fiction has delivered excellent movies of late and Oscar-nominated Norwegian director Morten Tyldum has thrust two of Hollywood’s most in-demand stars into space for his exploration of the genre. Adventure drama Passengers is set in a future where new planets have been formed for humans to escape earth and start again. To get there, starship Avalon travels for 120 years and colonists go to sleep in hibernation pods until they approach their destination. Following a system malfunction, passengers Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) are woken up far too early, so with only each other and android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) for company and ninety years of their journey to go, they must work together to figure out what has happened and, of course, fall in love in the process.
Despite the forward-thinking concept and the futuristically slick environment the action unfolds in, the narrative looks often looks backwards rather than forwards, borrowing ideas from others films rather than cementing its own originality. The story begins as Castaway-in-space before passing into Titanic territory whilst navigating around the thematic questions and iceberg-sized plotholes. Tyldum seems much more interested in developing the inevitable romance between the leads than the science, fixing his directorial male gaze on swimsuits and slithers of side boob as Aurora is taken in by Jim’s delectable charms. There’s fun to be had in the performances though with Pratt and Lawrence revelling in the script, written by Jon Spaihts, that knowingly plays with rom-com stereotyping. That old clichéd line about ‘if you were the last man on the planet’ has a gloomily genuine resonance in these star-crossed lovers’ scenario.
Passengers lacks the substance and gravitas to measure up with the cinematic sci-fi wonders of recent years, but as Friday night fodder Tyldum’s effort fares rather well. The strikingly beautiful visual style adopted by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto is dazzling enough to distract from the increasingly silly storytelling, and both Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence have the quality and presence to ride the narrative wobbles and keep the starship moving in the right direction.