Chris Pratt Seems to Know Defending Passengers Isn’t a Great Idea
He's gonna try anyway, though
Leading up to its release, Passengers was marketed as blockbuster sci-fi romance thriller starring the two hottest young box office gold stars of the moment (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence), all with a Christmas release. It was designed to dominate the box office and take all of our money. Instead, word of mouth—both from audiences and critics—caught on and earned the movie small audiences and a boatload of negative criticism.
Variety recently asked Chris Pratt if he was surprised by the reaction, to which he replied, “Yeah. It did, it really did. I was really caught off guard by that. It was definitely a lesson.”
What lesson did he learn here, though? A lesson about how expectations for a project can be totally wrong? Or (please oh please) did he maybe take in what the criticism was saying and see something in his character—maybe even how his character reflects dark elements of the world around us—that he’s never seen before? Because the vast majority of the negative reviews of the film have little to do with its cinematic elements. Most of the criticism is aimed at Pratt’s character, as the lack of awareness not just he, but the movie’s creators, seem to have in regard to his actions.
I’ve discussed here before the fact that the “twist” of the movie isn’t really a twist. It’s the entire premise, and we learn it early on in the film. Still, if you haven’t seen the movie, still plan to, and have managed to make it this far without hearing what the whole plot is really about, then here’s a spoiler warning courtesy of Michael Sheen, the only good thing about the movie.
What we were told in the movie’s trailers is that this is a story of intergalactic colonization gone wrong, when the pods of two travelers malfunction and cause the passengers to wake up 90 years too soon. Except as you may already know, that’s not the actual plot. Only one pod breaks down: that of Pratt’s character, Jim. Facing a life of isolation, combined with an obsession (I think we’re supposed to believe it’s love or something close to it?) with Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora, he opens her pod, waking her up to live on the ship alone with only him.
Later on in the movie, when she finds out what he’s done, she’s hurt and furious and stops speaking to Jim. That is, until she forgives him and falls in love or whatever.
No one involved in this movie seemed to understand just how dark Jim’s decision was. In every interview, the writer and director both insisted the audience was meant to be engrossed in the question of “What would I do in that situation?” And that’s a great question, a fascinating conversation point. But throughout the movie, it felt like we were meant to identify with Jim, never Aurora. He wasn’t an anti-hero, he was a straightforward everyman protagonist. And that didn’t sit well with a lot of viewers, especially with critics, whose entire job is to flesh out their opinions. It’s a lot easier to have less of a problem with this kind of material when you’re not required to analyze or rationalize it. Various reviews (all via Rotten Tomatoes) described the movie as “A dumb, poorly written piece of CGI spectacle, the eye candy on display sullied by the sexism that riddles its minimal plot,” “the most disturbing premise I’ve encountered in the cinema in a long time,” and an “icky stalker scenario.”
So back to Pratt and his surprise. He told Variety, “I personally think the movie is very good, I’m very proud of it.” Because this is a business, he of course mentions that it didn’t lose money. It definitely didn’t make what the studio had to have been expecting, bringing in just shy of $300 million globally on a $110 million budget. Still, it came out ahead, and Pratt says he’s “proud of how the movie turned out and it did just fine to make money back for the studio,” adding, “But the critical score was disproportionately negative compared to the Cinemascore. It got the same rating on Rotten Tomatoes as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, maybe worse.”
In fact, as of this writing, it’s doing worse than Paul Blart, which has a 33% rating. Passengers has 31%. That’s worse than Blart, worse than the Entourage movie, worse than Sharknado 3.
But Pratt seems wary of stepping into anything that would require a dreaded Celebrity Apology. Despite having just brought up the whole critics vs. “real” audiences discrepancy, he says he doesn’t want to imply the critics are wrong. “I never want to be in a situation where I’m blaming critics for not liking a movie,” he says. “So I’ll just stop talking. It is what it is and I’m proud of it.”
(Side note: If critics could write reviews that just say “I don’t know, it is what it is” and leave it at that, we’d have a lot more positive reviews in the world. Also, a lot fewer meaningful conversations about entertainment and how it reflects the world around us.)
So … what do we think that “lesson” is that Chris Pratt learned? Probably not anything related to the actual criticism of his character’s disturbing actions and dangerous justifications, right?
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