Warning: This article contains spoilers for "Passengers" starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. But... it's definitely not worth $13+ so maybe just keep reading.
When I come home for the holidays, I like to see a movie with my dad and my friend Carter (and usually his dad). We like geeky stuff, but we're more Lord of the Rings people than Star Wars people. We'll take a little bit of heart over a lot of flash. So when faced with the choice of which movie to see, there was an obvious answer: "Arrival." It's the kind of movie with such a good concept that you reflexively lower your own expectations for it because there's no way that it could be executed as perfectly as the vague idea of it is in your head. Amy Adams plays a linguist tasked with cracking the thick and ever-so-glossed-over language barrier between an intelligent species that has suddenly landed a fleet of ships around the globe and the human race. I know, it's incredible.
But I didn't get to see "Arrival." It was all my fault really. The movie had been out for months and I missed my golden window of opportunity over Thanksgiving break. The only place it was left playing it was 35 minutes away at the Palisades mall. My dad and I picked up Carter (his dad had already seen it) and arrived at a comfortable 25 minutes before its scheduled screentime to find that it was only playing in a 12 person theater that looked like one of the death chambers from "Soylent Green." Our hand was forced, all that remained was the "Assassin's Creed" movie and "Passengers." We chose wrong.
To be fair, I didn't see "Passengers" in 3D. I didn't see it in IMAX either. But even as some sort of flashy tech demo, "Passengers" has to be considered a failure.
The plot centers around a mechanic who has abandoned our home planet Earth for the sole reason that "they don't need builders" anymore. People don't fix things, Chris Pratt's character insists, they just buy new ones. He wants to go to one of the new colony planets, Homestead II, where his talents will be of great use. He trades 20 percent of all future earnings for a third class ticket aboard the Avalon, which is the meteor-impenetrable spacefaring ship carrying five thousand intentionally comatose pioneers to the new colony planet. They'll all sleep for 120 years and wake up with a month to go before reaching their new homeworld.
He wakes up early, by accident, for no apparent reason and is left to explore the space-yacht that is the Avalon by himself. This is by far the best part of the movie. It has a "Home Alone" vibe combined with a dash of "The Shining." The second part comes in when he meets the robotic bartender who's able to carry out basic conversation with him but lacks the depth of a human companion. He's alone in space and given unlimited resources for play, work, and rest. He goes drunk on the delightful solitude before going crazy. Finally he wakes up Jennifer Lawrence's character and pretends she was woken up by accident, too.
There was so much potential for genuine horror here. This man is left alone with the bodies of all these sleeping people in space and his only companion is a shallow robotic bartender. Not to mention the insistent namedropping and heavyhanded criticism of the corporation that runs the ship. Does the robot bartender turn out to be the face of an evil computer that plotted to drive him insane or use him? Are the bodies of the passengers simply meat for an alien race to consume? Is the corporation the true culprit behind waking him up, perhaps as some sort of free lifetime maintenance worker? No. No. No. No. There's literally no mystery. In the end, it was a meteor that broke through the meteor-impenetrable hull with no real explanation that caused his malfunction.
There is no horror, no conspiracy, no real obstacle in this movie that can't be overcome with a platitude and a wave of the sci-fi hand. Even at the very end of the movie when Jennifer Lawrence's character, who has every right to want to punish Chris Pratt, is given the opportunity to sleep until reaching Homestead II and let him live out the remainder of his time alone, declines to do something that would very natural for her to do. Finally, when the rest of the passengers wake up to find the forest of the ship that Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence made together, there isn't even a child of the two there to greet the other passengers. The writers for this movie took advantage of zero twists or complications.
I don't demand a sad or bittersweet end, but I sure don't like to be narrative blue-balled when it seems like you're spending the entire movie waiting for some reveal. In the end, for all of the horror build-up and sins worthy of punishment, all of the problems are solved by the first or second solution and everyone lives happily ever after. Cue original soundtrack Diplo song and fade to credits.