Set in a malfunctioning spaceship headed to a new planet, Passengers tells the story of Jim Preston, who wakes up from his hibernation all alone and ninety years too early. After spending a year with nothing but a robotic bartender as his companion, he gets smitten by one of the passengers and decides to wake her up from hibernation.
Passengers combines sci-fi, action, and romance, and it actually does a good job of drawing you into its story in the beginning. The first 10-15 minutes of the film comprises solely of Jim Preston all alone in the ship, trying to get back into hibernation or call for help. Before we know it, an entire year has passed and Jim is just about ready to kill himself until he falls in love with a sleeping Aurora. It’s a good start to the film, but after Aurora wakes up the film slowly but surely goes down in quality.
The main problem is that the entire romantic relationship between Jim and Aurora is a ticking time bomb. Because the film has no other characters except the two, we really only follow them throughout the duration of the film. There are no other elements in the entire movie that can distract us from the predictable outcome of Aurora finding out that Jim deliberately woke her up because of his isolation. Instead of being involved and wondering what happens next, the audience is merely waiting for Aurora’s inevitable discovery. Once she finds out, their relationship falls apart and the film gives you no reason to continue caring about what happens next.
Despite knowing their backgrounds and ambitions, Jim and Aurora are ultimately flat, boring characters. You’d think that a film that runs for almost two hours long would be able to develop a whopping two characters, but it doesn’t. For whatever reason the film completely fails to make us care about either of them because there’s just nothing interesting about them at all. Both characters are incredibly one dimensional and it becomes obvious that the only reason they start a romantic relationship is because the script told them to. This wouldn’t be so bad if the film explores what isolation can do to two people who have no one else but each other, but it doesn’t. Throughout the movie they go on romantic dinners, play games, swim in a pool, and bask in a technological marvel of a spaceship that has everything they could ever need (save for other people). All told, they’re living incredibly rich lives and it feels like the film is so afraid of being remotely introspective because it glosses over the fact that their experiences are ultimately hollow.
Eventually a crew member wakes up as more and more of the ship slowly falls apart. Laurence Fishburne’s appearance sparks a moment of life into the film because it introduces a new element into the film. Unfortunately his character exists solely to progress the plot and nothing more. He gains access to the controls of the ship and figures out what’s been causing all the problems, along with the fact that he’s also dying due to a malfunction from his hibernation. Not ten minutes since he first appeared in the movie to deliver exposition, Laurence Fishburne dies and now it’s up to Jim and Aurora to fix the ship themselves.
The movie then devolves into a generic action adventure wherein Jim almost dies while saving the day and Aurora forgives him like a victim who’s suffering from Stockholm syndrome. After finding a medical pod that can imitate the effects of hibernation, Jim offers it to Aurora which she refuses, opting instead to live out the rest of her life in the ship with Jim.
Ultimately Passengers is a film that looks and sounds good on the surface, but nothing more. When you look at the genres it covers, you’ll see that it doesn’t actually achieve its goals at the end of the day. The sci-fi aspect is mere window dressing to a story that isn’t all that compelling; the romance is unconvincing at best and disturbing at worst due to Jim’s horrible act in the beginning; and the action is neither exciting nor captivating. It’s a film that is more than satisfied with remaining mediocre until the very end instead of exploring its story and characters in-depth. Passengers is sci-fi at its most generic and at its most shallow, choosing to distract its audience with shiny CGI instead of fulfilling the promise of its unique story.