-An unfocused sci-fi flop and a completely ludicrous game adaptation that has more plot inconsistencies than seemingly possible.
Passengers is the type of movie that just caves under its own weight. It’s partially because every film blog and magazine has been talking about it ever since Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt were cast together, with Morten Tyldum directing, fresh off of his hit The Imitation Game. Many of us initially thought that the Christmas release and cast meant that it would be this year’s science fiction awards-season push, but it was actually the opposite, a studio push to compile a currently popular genre (the space opera) and cast two hit actors in it to churn out some money. I think that it was more of a business-entity movie than it was a focused project, evidenced by a screenplay that cannot decide exactly what it wants to be.
Our story is a three act story whose sub-genre under the sci-fi umbrella changes as the acts change. We begin with Jim (Chris Pratt), who awakes 90 years early on a space trip to a newly colonized planet outside of our solar system. He spends about a year alone, going insane, before Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) mysteriously wakes up as well. As they’re alone, a romance blossoms between the two, but as time passes, the ship begins to have mechanical issues, and it’s up to Aurora and Jim to help save the ship before they lives of every sleeping person on board are destroyed.
The first two sections of the film are fine, nothing special or extraordinary, but not really flawed enough to innately criticize. If anything, they feel a little sterile because of the very boring ship design, but Pratt does a nice job while alone and then has good chemistry with Lawrence was she joins. You do buy their blossoming friendship and romance, and you also get some decent scenes with a Martin Sheen android that is the ship’s bartender. Pratt is a strong enough, and charismatic enough, actor to carry the scenes alone, even if it’s nothing you haven’t seen before in the “stranded on an island alone” concept. For both lead characters, they are developed just by enjoying the actors, and not necessarily because either character is particularly interesting or well developed. We may know their careers and a few of their desires, but they aren’t real people or given life within the movie.
The fairly safe and average film is undercut in the final act which tries to be too big for itself, when two normal people try to fix very complex engineering problems on the ship. It’s a “too good to be true” ending that completely lost me as a viewer. It’s tough to care when it feels so false. Overall, it’s a pretty standard science fiction go-round.
Also, there’s a moral dilemma that is presented between the characters, and it bothered many reviewers to the point that it worsened the movie to being completely unwatchable. I didn’t get that uncomfortable from it, probably because I wasn’t hugely invested in it, anyway.
Director: Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game, Headhunters, Buddy, Fallen Angels)
Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, and Andy Garcia
RT Score: 31%
Originally discussed by many to be the potential savior for the much maligned video game movie genre, Assassin’s Creed only furthers the stereotype that Hollywood cannot make a cohesive film based on a gaming universe. After months of waiting for this film, I sadly have to report that it’s one of the worst of the entire year, and a colossal disappointment for all of the people who looked forward to it. Some of the choices here in story-telling are mind boggling in how ineffective and silly they are, and it wastes whatever potential it had in casting decent actors and involving an intriguing concept.
Michael Fassbender plays Cal Lynch, a death-row criminal who receives the death penalty, but wakes up at Abstergo Industries, getting a way out of his life of crime from scientist Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard). Abstergo wants to obtain a long-lost artifact called the Apple of Eden that has the power to limit individuality and curb impulses like violence. In the hope of using it to work a possibility of world peace, Abstergo has created technology called ‘the animus’ that allows the person inside the mechanism to relive his ancestor’s memories. Many of the “patients” at Abstergo are descendants of ‘the Assassins,’ stealthy, cloaked warriors who are sworn protectors of the apple. As Dr. Rikkin hopes to use Cal’s ancestor’s memories to find the Apple, she faces pressure from company owner (and her father) Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), who has more of a world-domination plan once they get control of the apple. The ancestor’s memories puts Cal, as an assassin, in the classic conflict of the Assassins against the religious Templars, who want the apple. It’s worth nothing that Cal is aware, at least somewhat, of his family’s connection to the Assassins due to events from his childhood.
I played ‘Assassin’s Creed 2’ for the Play Station 3 when it came out, so I’m at least somewhat aware of a few bits of mythology from the games, but I don’t pretend to be an expert, rather that I understand how the plot is supposed to work. The movie sure doesn’t do a great job helping you.
So, before complaints about the plot and some of the porous inconsistencies, let’s talk about the actual choices in the filmmaking. The first issue, and it’s a gigantic one, is that the action scenes are filmed to shit and use the rapid-cut/shaky-camera format to try to avoid solid stuntwork. Because much of the assassin’s appeal is their ability to jump from building to building and work in the shadows, the film has a lot of parkour stunts. Sadly, because of the direction, they don’t work, and none of the hand-to-hand combat or stealth scenes that would make an Assassin’s Creed movie work are present. It’s immensely frustrating. One of the other huge issues involves the effects. Again, one of the crowning characteristics of this movie should be the scenery in a 1400s Spain. The entire draw is the ability to be inserted in these classic environments as if they were natural. The effects looked really poor, and my guess is that they tried to keep the budget low due to the innate ability of a film like this to generate initial revenue from fans. A final point related to the action scenes is more of a personal taste, but the movie did a constant cutting between the past and present when in the animus, where one second it’d be the assassin flying on rooftops and then it’d cut to Cal in the animus miming the moves in a sterile room. While I buy the “it’ll be converted to muscle memory and we should see his growth into a good fighter” rationale, it just could’ve been done so to not continue to cut away from the few precious moments of past that this movie gives us. It could be that director Justin Kurzel didn’t really know why people wanted to see the movie, but it’s upsetting that so much is done with complete mediocrity. Just for not, it wastes performances by Michael K. Williams, Charlotte Rampling, and Brendan Gleeson.
The plot is littered with problems. Why would Abstergo pick a criminal who clearly has a problem with authority to do this mission for them? Presumably, if his ancestor lived over 500 years ago, there are plenty of new generations with new children that come from his DNA (probably over a hundred), allowing Abstergo to use the animus on plenty of other people, rather than the criminal who will most certainly betray you. The other stylistic thing I have a huge issue is the transition between past and present, where we could have a very interesting play of immediately going to the Assassin and what he is seeing (like the top of a building), but instead we get tracking shots all over the computer generated environments that don’t look that great. This film had the potential to immersive and wasn’t.
Other small things are just nit-picks, like the fact that Christopher Columbus’s tomb holds the apple, or that Marion Cotillard gets betrayed but should’ve seen in coming and that the Templar v. Assassin conflict isn’t very well explained or realized. Also, the timelines are very inconsistent with the Assassin story-line, having a lot of time passing between trips into the animus, and we’re not sure what has transpired in-between them. There could’ve been a lot of footage cut. Also, there’s an odd ghost-footage issue where random members of Assassin generations appear at odd times in this montage scene that doesn’t really make a ton of sense. There’s just a huge amount of small holes in the plot that prevent the movie from ever rebounding from its own mistakes.
Assassin’s Creed (2016)
Director: Justin Kerzel (Macbeth, Snowtown)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael K. Williams, and Charlotte Rampling
RT Score: 16%