The countdown to Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt’s long-awaited launch into orbit is almost over, as their Morten Tyldum-directed sci-fi romance Passengers finally rockets into theaters next week. The Norwegian filmmaker’s first big-budget feature looks to set the winter box office on fire with a pair of the industry’s biggest stars at the helm, but can the $120 million production dazzle critics the same way Tyldum’s Oscar-winning drama The Imitation Game did back in 2014, or is it just another piece of drifting Hollywood space junk? Unfortunately, early reviews indicate the latter.
EW’s Chris Nashawaty gives the film, which follows two people (Pratt, Lawrence) who prematurely awaken from an induced hibernation aboard a space colony-bound ship, a dismal D+ in his review, noting that while the “signs to be hopeful” about the film were always there (he cites the film’s charismatic leads and the talent of its director), the film is ultimately “pretty bad” and “stupider” than its premise as an “Adam-and-Eve riff” initially suggests.
Most mainstream critics, while praising Pratt and Lawrence in particular, have taken issue with the film’s screenplay, which kicks off with a promising, morally-inquisitive bang, but falters as it nears the one-hour mark.
“Jon Spaihts’s script runs out of gas,” writes Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman. “Tyldun [sic] handles the dialogue almost as if he were doing a stage play, but he turns out to be a blah director of spectacle; he doesn’t make it dramatic. There’s not much to Passengers besides its one thin situation, and there are moments when the film could almost be ‘a very special episode of Star Trek’ …“
Writing for IndieWire, Kate Erbland — who also criticizes the film’s structure — points out the film’s sloppy handling of “icky questions of consent that run through its central narrative,” while noting Tyldum “frequently lets slip moments of brief brilliance, from 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.”
Passengers opens in theaters nationwide on Dec. 21. Watch the film’s trailer above, see a clip below, and read on to see what the critics are saying about the Pratt/Lawrence flick.
Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
“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… Passengers is way stupider than that… To recap, 1.) Passengers is bad. 2.) Michael Sheen is great. 3.) As for the rest, save your money.”
Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
“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… There’s only one place for Passengers to go, and once it gets there, Jon Spaihts’s script runs out of gas. Tyldun [sic] handles the dialogue almost as if he were doing a stage play, but he turns out to be a blah director of spectacle; he doesn’t make it dramatic. There’s not much to Passengers besides its one thin situation, and there are moments when the film could almost be ‘a very special episode of Star Trek’, because Pratt, with his golden-boy smirk, has a Kirkian side, and the voyage they’re on is grandiose yet amorphous (like the Enterprise’s). The ship itself has a variety of chambers and communal spaces, but it all seems overly familiar and sterile. What’s lackluster about Passengers isn’t just that the movie is short on surprise, but that it’s like a castaway love story set in the world’s largest, emptiest shopping mall in space.”
Robert Abele (The Wrap)
“No one said space travel would be easy, much less falling in love on a remote journey across the galaxy, or fixing a failing ship. But 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. That leaves the rest of the movie with an unwelcome thematic stain regarding issues of male captivity fantasy and victimization, and it makes the heroic derring-do that dominates the second half ring laughably hollow. 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.”
Sheri Linden (The Hollywood Reporter)
“As he showed in his first English-language feature, The Imitation Game, Norwegian director Morten Tyldum knows how to hit the prescribed emotional notes, but subtlety is not his strong suit. Even with striking visual design and seamless digital effects, he struggles to conjure an all-encompassing sense of wonder — and danger — from the deep-space setting, however insistent Thomas Newman’s score.”
Kate Erbland (IndieWire)
At the very least, the feature — marketed as a kind of ‘Titanic in space’ love epic with a big, shocking twist — 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 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. Spaihts has reportedly been fighting to get this project — originally intended as a Keanu Reeves vehicle — made for years, and while the eventual casting of such big stars as Lawrence and Pratt should have been the final piece in a beleaguered production, it only further highlights the film’s missteps.”
Terri Schwartz (IGN)
“Only actors as immediately likable and emotionally dynamic as Pratt and Lawrence would be able to pull off a film that requires this much heavy lifting, and their easy chemistry makes up for many of Passengers‘ misses. Pratt in particular has to fill a lot of the film by himself, and he makes a convincing case for Jim as he makes his tough choice and then deals with the fallout of it. The biggest problem with the film is it doesn’t follow that dilemma through to the end. At a certain point, Passengers goes a more Hollywood route with its story, and suddenly the focus isn’t on the human conflict but instead an impending disaster that had been set up carefully throughout the length of the movie. Because of that, certain characters are let off the hook for decisions more easily than they should be, and the Passengers doesn’t have as big an impact as the theoretical conversations it raises could have.”
Andrew Pulver (The Guardian)
“Even if its narrative was just as preposterous as Passengers’, Gravity showed how it was possible to suggest genuine physical jeopardy in a spacebound setting. Passengers’ preoccupation with its romcom chops means that, despite all the fancy electronics and stark minimalist design, actual peril is in short supply. Even the showpiece scene where Lawrence is engulfed by swimming-pool water after the shipboard gravity fails is a nicely realised idea, but never remotely is Dunn’s emergence from the water, hair slightly ruffled, ever in doubt. 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 the aforementioned stalker-creepiness. But neither can do much with that fateful initial premise: it means that Passengers, unfortunately, has suffered irreparable damage to its own engine casing.”