8:47am PT by Graeme McMillan
'Passengers': What the Critics Are Saying
If the prospect of seeing Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as the only two people alive on a spaceship filled with sleeping beauties is something that has always appealed, then chances are, Passengers seemed like a cinematic dream come true. Unfortunately, based on the first wave of reviews for the movie, the reality might be more like a nightmare.
"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," writes The Hollywood Reporter's Sheri Linden. "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."
Noting that "subtlety is not [director Morten Tyldum's] strong suit," Linden complains that stars Lawrence and Pratt lack any sense of urgency as they hurtle through space, with their relationship failing to convince, as well. As she puts it, "The necessary fire is missing from their chemistry."
That's not the only thing missing from the movie, apparently: Despite the presence of what Linden calls "messy ethical questions, and matters of life and death," Passengers ultimately chooses a safer path. "Given the imaginative setup and the material’s provocative questions about mortality — not to mention the future of humankind — the movie’s neat lessons about the nature of happiness and a life well lived feel too easy, too obvious," she writes.
Other critics were similarly disappointed by the movie. IndieWire's Kate Erbland called it a disaster, writing, "Passengers refuses to really wrestle with the compelling questions at its core, instead opting to lean on Lawrence and Pratt’s collective charm to keep things ticking amiably along. The problem is, this isn’t an amiable story — it’s a philosophically thorny one, and aiming to keep things light doesn’t dilute any of its issues, it just dumbs the entire outing down."
The uneven tone was also a problem for The Guardian's Andrew Pulver. "The basic creepiness of this anti-meet-cute extinguishes what the filmmakers presumably are hoping is a warm fuzzy glow of spiky, sparky interaction," he wrote, referring to the mechanics by which Pratt's character meets Lawrence's. "Stalking tactics bolstering romantic comedies are by no means new, and over the decades, filmmakers have proved adept at somehow planing down real-world nastiness, but here it’s gruesomely inescapable."
Time Out's Tom Huddleston also pointed out that the movie seemed disinterested in dealing with the problems inherent in its own plot, calling Passengers "so anodyne, so frightened of the ethically troubling opportunities inherent in the setup that it just ends up feeling forgettable and silly. Made with half the budget by a filmmaking team wiling to take a few risks, this could have been sharp, sadistic and special. As it is, you’ll be longing for a nice nap yourself by the end."
Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawty put it bluntly, writing "Alas, Passengers is not very good. In fact, it’s pretty bad," before calling out the ways in which the movie was "stupid," and going on to say that Lawrence, in particular, deserves better than what she's given in terms of her role. "She’s stuck in what essentially amounts to a risable two-hour exhibit of sci-fi Stockholm Syndrome. But cheer up, even the best movie stars need to make a howler like this every once in a while. It makes us appreciate the good ones more."
Not everyone was left cold, however. Empire's James Dyer was won over by the movie, and then some. "If your money was on Bridget Jones’s Baby or Allied for 2016’s most heart-fluttering romance, The Imitation Game’s Morten Tyldum just cost you some cash," he wrote, adding that "Pratt and Lawrence are magnetic as the literal star-crossed lovers, convincingly seduced by each other over the passage of time; an awkward, space-suit-bumping kiss giving way to a passionate, Cheerios-all-over-the-floor breakfast shag."