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PASSENGERS – When Gravity Fails

passengers-lawrence-pratt

Directed by Morten Tyldum
Starring Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Laurence Fishburne

The star-ship Avalon threads its way between earth and a colony planet over a hundred years away. On board are over 5,000 souls in suspended animation looking for a life on a new world. When an accident causes a hibernation pod to malfunction, mechanic Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is awoken 90 years early. Unable to go back into hibernation, and unable to cope with the isolation, he decides to awaken another traveler to spend her life with him. As the attraction between Jim and Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) grows, they are threatened by various malfunctions aboard the Avalon, that grow to endanger the whole ship.

For a romantic tale, Passengers forgets one important central aspect – informed consent.

Yeah….that’s a big one.

In this day and age, that is frankly shocking. Removed of its science fiction setting, the basic premise runs something similar to this; man finds someone he likes the look of, cyber-stalks her, then isolates her from other people in the hope that she will one day come to love him. That would be more at home as the central plot for some dark thriller or horror film. Instead Passenger pitches it as a romance amongst the stars.

Which is not to say that Passengers is unaware of this issue, as that forms part of the dramatic tension in the later half of the film. It’s just that Jon Spariths’ (Prometheus, Doctor Strange) script is neither intelligent enough or morally complex enough to deal with that fact, beyond acknowledging that it might be a problem. Instead it just ploughs through, safe in the understanding that eventually love conquers all.

Ultimately that’s a giant warp core breach that irradiates all the surroundings. It’s hard to like anything about this film, when it is built on such a toxic foundation. Which is a pity, because director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) brings us at least a middling good science fiction film here in terms of effects and cast. Not great mind you, as even beyond that central problem the script is flawed and cliched, but at least it could have been enjoyable. Pratt and Lawrence are certainly charismatic actors, and do the best with what they’ve got. Although given that situation the relationship is in, that is often very uncomfortable to watch. Then there is Laurence Fishburne’s sudden appearance to fill in almost the text book example of the ‘Magical Negro’ film trope. Perhaps the only one untouched by this is Michael Sheen, who shines through as an android bar tender, dispensing wisdom like a magic eight-ball due to the confines of his programming parameters.

When it comes to terms of ethical questions, Passengers certainly fails its Voight-Kampff test.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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