Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Movie review: Passengers

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Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in the sci-fi movie, Passengers.
Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in the sci-fi movie, Passengers.

I never thought I'd see a movie that would make me want to turn down the opportunity to take a long-haul journey with Chris Pratt. Sadly, the day has come and I have Passengers to thank. Although the film is plastered all over billboards and buses with the misleading tagline "they woke up for a reason", and the two leads Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are making headlines the world over for their uproarious pranks and outraged interview walk-outs, do not be fooled by the calculated marketing around this movie. Not only is it a terrible film, but it is built upon the most disturbing premise I've encountered in the cinema in a long time.

Directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and written by John Spaihts (Prometheus), the story takes place on the Starship Avalon, in the midst of a 120-year intergalactic cruise to a new planet on Homestead II. The titular passengers on the craft are forced into hibernation for the majority of the journey, until one of them accidentally wakes up due to a pod malfunction. Jim Preston, a loveable mechanic oaf played by loveable actor oaf Chris Pratt, finds himself facing 90 more years of space travel and not a human soul to talk to.

And this is where it gets disturbing. There are spoilers ahead, normally ones I would avoid but the hidden premise to this film was crucial in my physical reaction of repulsion to it.

With only Michael Sheen's charming bartender android, Arthur, for company, Jim slowly begins to ache for human company. He's played all the virtual games on board, grown a beard and turned into a gross naked slob. This is when a woman in hibernation catches his attention, a beautiful blonde writer named Aurora (in a not-so-subtle nod to Sleeping Beauty). He becomes enamoured with her, perving at her sleeping, reading all her work and re-watching her application videos for the programme - which is about the point where I started to feel deeply ill about the direction the movie was heading in.

What happens next is symbolic of a bursting, septic boil of male entitlement to women's bodies, lives and stories. Jim selfishly decides to wake Aurora up, essentially sentencing her to death on the ship before they come even close to her destination. Instead of deploring Jim's choices and examining that level of desperation and depravity, Passengers palms this plot point off as the beginning of a classic Hollywood love story. Aurora falls for Jim, finds out the truth, and falls back in love with him. When given the choice to return to sleep, she insists on staying with him. The woman abandons her hopes, plans and future all for a schlub in a boiler suit.

In another universe, the genuinely disgusting premise might have been made more palatable by charismatic performances and a smart, self-aware script that raised questions of morality, ethics and gender. Unfortunately, the writing is abysmal and the script sets out mostly to rehash the plot every few minutes to the point where it becomes insulting. With only four key characters in the film - Lawrence Fishburne pops up as a crew member - even the star power of Pratt, Lawrence and Sheen fails to keep this flop together.

I walked out of Passengers with a lot of questions, but none of them were the kind that the film thinks it is asking. Instead of pondering on how I would act facing a life of isolation, or reflecting on my own purpose in a harsh and endless universe, I came out with one query and one query only: how on Earth did a gross sexist film like this get made in 2016?

Showing now, rated M

- Spy.co.nz

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