Film Review: Two strong leads can’t overcome a flawed story

Oh, look. It’s another movie getting slammed by critics this Holiday season. Is it another matter of the critics being a bit unnecessarily harsh or is it fairly justified by weak elements of the film? I want to start out by saying that whoever made the trailer for this film should be applauded because they really made it look like an epic space adventure/drama/romance that was going to be sure-fire Oscar bait in February. Chris Pratt has had a steady track record of successful films over the past few years and Lawrence already has an Oscar under her belt so I’m sure Hollywood producers were salivating at the financial and critical prospects that this film could potentially have this year. Unfortunately with its $110 million budget and having only grossed a $15 million opening and a 31% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, that doesn’t look to be in the cards.

During a 120-year journey on a ship called the Avalon bound for a new planet known as Homestead II, something goes awry. As the ship collides in space with some kind of debris, several units malfunction and one of the hibernation pods on-board the ship malfunctions and opens about 90 years too early, thus guaranteeing that its inhabitant, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), will be destined to eventually pass away on the ship rather than getting to see his new home. He receives some company from an android/bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen) but the loneliness eventually drives him crazy, leading him to open up another hibernation chamber where he notices beautiful Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), an American writer whose work inspires him to release her. As he hides the real reason that her pod was released early, the machinery in the ship begins to act strange and things start to go wrong.

I apologize if that plot summary gave away a bit too much because I covered a good, solid hour of the film but that is really where the film’s plot starts to become important. I spoke earlier about the trailer being really well-conceived but the part that they seemed to have conveniently left out (or maybe they did show it but I seem to remember it differently) is that Jim releases Aurora from her hibernation chamber, basically sentencing her to death without ever making it to Homestead II and all just because he “falls in love” with her through her writing and several of her videos that he finds on the ship. Immediately, that was a tough sell for me and I found it a bit cringey in concept. You do see Preston struggling with this moral decision but it still makes it hard to root for this character especially when it comes to his motivation being that her writing is funny and her videos make him laugh and swoon. This kind of crack in the story is tough to get past and has a lingering effect on the rest of the film.

Besides the premise, one of the main problems in the movie is pacing and stakes. Allow me to further explain: for the first 30-40 minutes (or maybe it was an hour? It seemed like a long time…), Jim spends his time cruising around on-board the ship, looking for things to do, talking to Arthur, exploring space in a suit for a while and generally not accomplishing a whole lot. He learns that he is not able to go back into hibernation and will now be stuck walking around for the next 90 years (or until whenever he passes away of natural causes). Therein lies a problem with the pacing as it takes forever to get to any place in the film where we really start to feel like there are any stakes. Once Aurora has been woken up and finds romance with Preston (it’s all over the trailers, no spoiler alert), it’s still a good long while before the main conflict comes up regarding the ship having several malfunctioning parts.

The positive side of the movie is that you have two very charismatic and talented thespians leading the charge. Pratt is a very good leading man and has proved that as of late while Lawrence has shown in many films that she can be a strong yet vulnerable performer as well. The two have very good chemistry together and they are likeable; it’s just a shame that their debut together couldn’t have been in a better film. It’s not that the movie is awful or even quite bad, it’s just that it has a lot of crippling problems that prevent the film from becoming anything better than mediocre. Michael Sheen is a delight though in his role as the android bartender, Arthur. While Arthur mostly serves as a sounding board for our leads and to serve them drinks, he also infuses the film with a bit of humour, which is usually much-needed because of how serious the film takes itself most of the time.

The visual effects are decent but the problem with that is when you watch a film like this that is similar to other adventure/drama/romance stories like Gravity for instance, you begin to compare and contrast. Whereas Gravity had some of the most beautiful cinematography and was brilliant in representing the cold emptiness of space, this movie does only a mid-level job at accomplishing the same thing. There are inspired moments where you get the vast scope of their situation but with the accompanying problem involving the pacing and the stakes of the film, it never really feels that urgent until the climax. The ending (which I will not spoil) is pretty lame as well and it really cheats the audience. We have just spent the last two hours watching these characters that you made us want to care about and that’s what you leave us with? We also get one of the most pointless cameos of all time.

While this review featured mostly negative comments about plot, pacing and some of the visuals I just want to state that I didn’t HATE the movie. It wasn’t what I would necessarily call “good” but I felt more inclined to attack its faults because of it being represented as this great, epic space opera based on the trailers. It’s maybe worth a rental at best.

RATING: ** ½

 

Rating System:

* (Brutal; the worst rating)

** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)

*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)

**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)

***** (Flawless; a true achievement)