There's a long way to go between concept and completed story, as Passengers so vacuously observes. It's an appropriate observation considering the movie is all about a long way to go between Earth and some corporate colony that takes 120 years to reach via a funkily shaped spaceship. A lot can go wrong in 120 years of space travel, just as a lot can go wrong between dreaming up a good idea and then having to find a pesky plot to go with it.
Here, something goes wrong on the ship early on in the movie, a while before the movie itself goes off the rails. Jim (Chris Pratt) wakes up 90 years prior to the scheduled awakening of the ship's 5000 passengers, meaning he's on his own and destined to live out the rest of his life on the lavish, though lonely ship. Sure, he gets the spacious dance competition video game room and basketball court to himself, but he's looking at a pretty boring future.
This part of the movie is actually decently fun, with Jim first discovering his predicament and then becoming an increasingly hirsute mess whose only companion, other than a bottle of liquor, is an always affable robot bartender (Michael Sheen). But loneliness is a terrible ailment when it's seemingly permanent, so Jim starts thinking crazy.
When he spies pretty journalist Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) in her sleeping pod, he's instantly smitten and begins to develop something of a crush on her as he proceeds to look her up in the ship's database. As his sense of loneliness grows, Jim wrestles with whether or not to wake up Aurora so he can have a pretty companion.
His dilemma is teased out for a while, but it's obvious to all what's going to happen, because even if you've avoided all promotional material for this movie and don't expect an expensive Hollywood movie to give its hot male star a hot female star to play with, then it's at least quite clear that no one hires Jennifer Lawrence to lie asleep for two hours.
This entire development is meant to be the moral crux of Jon Spaihts' script, a sort of impossible problem with only ethically knotted solutions, but it's so self-consciously designed to smudge out the tough questions by making Jim a selfless hero and Aurora his eventually accepting soulmate or something. Jim knows he's robbed Aurora of her future and she's none too happy to find out the truth at first, so the movie casts shame on Jim's decision, only to give him every opportunity to earn easy forgiveness. The universe has never tried so transparently to epically excuse the actions of one man.
It also turns out that romantic conflict isn't enough to fill the void of space, so the ship ends up under duress as well, causing a race against time to save the other 4998 passengers on board the luxury ship. Any more plot synopsis would just result in giving away the whole movie, but there are certainly no original ideas or clever surprises from this point on. Passengers travels far from its compelling conceit, ending up in territory so derivative that the movie may as well qualify as a recycled product.
Director Morten Tyldum takes inspiration from big titles like 2001 and Titanic, but as ambitious as that sounds, the influence only seems to drain Tyldum of whatever creativity he once had. So Aurora jogs around like Dave Bowman used to while the ship experiences the space equivalent of having a run-in with an iceberg and Tyldum dilutes the concept to the point that the movie can only digitally drool out a message about making the most of your time in life.
A near-death experience in the vacuum of space really brings two hot movie stars together and Jim certainly works his well-toned butt off to get back in Aurora’s (and the audience’s, obviously) good graces. That the movie is so transparently assembled to cheat the moral test it initially sets up just makes the whole finish feel quite pitiful.
Twisting and turning the basic idea of these two trapped on a fancy spaceship for the rest of their lives together into a weepy love story complete with an idiotic third act seems like the absolute worst path to have taken. Passengers could be a droll comedy where Jim’s decision really ruins everything or a love triangle thriller where someone else wakes up and sexual politics get in the way or really anything other than star-crossed lovers played by stars staring at stars.
A feel-good romance is a staple of Hollywood, of course, so it’s hardly surprising that this is where the movie ends up, but it’s disappointing that a concept with such exciting potential has been reduced to playing intergalactic matchmaker for two people who literally have nothing better to do than fall in love. Even when one of them gives a good reason to end the relationship, it’s still inevitable that they’ll work it all out because what else are they going to do with all that time and the whole place to themselves? Well, for starters, they could just watch Titanic.