Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN -

DI­REC­TOR Morten Tyl­dum CAST Jen­nifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen

PLOT Three decades into a 120-year trip to colonise a new world, two of the star­ship Avalon’s pas­sen­gers emerge from cryosleep pre­ma­turely. With nearly a cen­tury to go and no way back, Jim (Pratt) and Aurora (Lawrence) are, for all in­tents and pur­poses, the last two peo­ple alive.

IF YOUR MONEY was on Brid­get Jones’s Baby or Al­lied for 2016’s most heart-flut­ter­ing ro­mance, The Im­i­ta­tion Game’s Morten Tyl­dum just cost you some cash. Nei­ther the stam­mer­ing charms of Mark Darcy nor Mar­ion Cotil­lard and Brad Pitt’s tor­rid World War II af­fair man­age the emo­tional tug of this un­likely three-han­der about a pair of space trav­ellers and a robot bar­tender.

New lovers act like they’re the only ones in the world, but Pas­sen­gers’ dreamy-eyed duo be­come pre­cisely that af­ter an in­ter­stel­lar com­mute is dis­rupted by as­ter­oids on the line. A cas­cade of sys­tem fail­ures leads to a hi­ber­na­tion mal­func­tion and, while their 5,000 neigh­bours sleep, Jim (Pratt) and Aurora (Lawrence) wan­der the ship alone.

Un­ortho­dox the set­ting might be, but the blos­som­ing ro­mance is en­tirely fa­mil­iar — from ban­ter­ing over lunch to shar­ing a box of pop­corn at the cin­ema. It just hap­pens to play out within the glossy white halls of a star­ship re­sem­bling an Ap­ple-spon­sored shop­ping mall. Pratt and Lawrence are magnetic as the lit­eral star-crossed lovers, con­vinc­ingly se­duced by each other over the pas­sage of time; an awk­ward, space-suit­bump­ing kiss giv­ing way to a pas­sion­ate, Chee­rios-all-over-the-floor break­fast shag.

Aside from an ob­tuse com­puter (voiced by Lon­don Un­der­ground’s Emma ‘Mind The Gap’ Clarke) and a clutch of skit­ter­ing Room­bas, their only com­pany is Michael Sheen’s saga­cious an­droid bar­man. Arthur is the cou­ple’s only sound­ing board — part re­la­tion­ship coun­sel­lor, part con­science and oc­ca­sion­ally a nec­es­sary plot de­vice. Sheen in­jects a wel­come third per­spec­tive, break­ing into the lovers’ solip­sism and lay­ing bare their flaws — which are more than just pass­ing. Jim and Aurora’s re­la­tion­ship is built on a lie, one that cov­ers ob­ses­sion, self-in­ter­est and crush­ing guilt. The love story, far from sac­cha­rine, un­folds to pro­vide the darker as­pects of need and greed am­ple room to fes­ter.

The cou­ple’s di­ver­gent back­grounds make for early comedic fod­der (her ‘Gold Class’ break­fast leaves him star­ing mourn­fully at a bowl of cos­mic Weetabix), while Aurora’s in­tro­duc­tion to the ship’s leisure fa­cil­i­ties con­jures im­ages of Jack and Rose danc­ing in steer­age. The Ti­tanic par­al­lels are felt through­out, some­times in ex­plicit nods (a giddy space walk stands in for ‘fly­ing’ on the prow) and else­where in the films’ broader struc­ture. Much like Cameron’s nautical yarn, Pas­sen­gers’ early love story gives way to a lat­ter dis­as­ter flick: metaphor­i­cally as the cou­ple’s re­la­tion­ship is riven by be­trayal, then lit­er­ally as the mal­func­tion­ing Avalon be­gins a spi­ral to­wards de­struc­tion.

Hav­ing sur­vived a trip almost as drawn-out and un­cer­tain as the Avalon’s (Jon Spai­hts’ screen­play ap­peared on The Black List back in 2007), Pas­sen­gers is as sur­pris­ingly tra­di­tional as it is un­de­ni­ably ef­fec­tive. A time­less ro­mance wed­ded to a space-age sur­vival thriller, it may be a cu­ri­ous cou­pling but Tyl­dum’s Tur­ing fol­low-up is a jour­ney well worth tak­ing. JAMES DYER

VER­DICT Ti­tanic amongst the stars — this is a touch­ing, heart­felt tale of loss and love for the Grav­ity gen­er­a­tion.

The kitchen sec­tion of IKEA re­ally was the fu­ture.

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