There was a time last year, believe it or not, when Passengers felt like a can't-miss sci-fi spectacle. It was the first teaming of Guardians of the Galaxy's Chris Pratt and The Hunger Games' Jennifer Lawrence, both seemingly bulletproof stars with expanding blockbuster pedigrees. The early trailers, though light on plot, revealed a lush production full of luxurious deep-space design, and ... well, it was Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. As love interests. In 2016. It just seemed to have all the makings of a runaway hit, even if the early marketing made it a little difficult to puzzle out the story.
Then the movie came out.
From a box-office standpoint, Passengers did pretty well, grossing $300 million worldwide on a budget of about $100 million. It's not Jurassic World money, but it's solid. Critically, though it has its defenders, the film was battered by both movie reviewers and culture writers alike for one very problematic plot point.
Spoilers ahead (for a movie that's been out for nearly a year, but still ...)
The catalyst for Passengers is a malfunction in Jim's (Pratt) hibernation pod, causing him to wake up decades before he was meant to on a century-plus colonization voyage. After a year of almost total isolation, he grows obsessed with Aurora (Lawrence), and struggles with whether or not he should wake her up so he can finally have human interaction again. Finally, he decides to do it, then tells her that she was also awakened due to a malfunctioning pod. Over time, they fall in love, but it's all essentially built on the lie that he did not wake her up on purpose, basically condemning her to die on the ship rather than reach the colony. Ultimately, this secret is revealed. Aurora is enraged ... but then ultimately decides to live out the rest of her life on the ship with Jim anyway.
It's more complicated than that, and the film certainly isn't flippant about it, but you can see how some would take issue with such a story. Backlash was swift and fierce, prompting both writer Jon Spaihts and director Morten Tyldum to rush to the film's defense. Lawrence, for her part, was relatively quiet about the controversy.
Now, in a wide-ranging new interview with Vogue (she's on the cover this month), Lawrence has finally weighed in on the Passengers fallout. She's not ashamed of the movie, but upon reflection she seems to have realized that the issues at work in the story could have been handled better.
“I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t spot it,” she said. “I thought the script was beautiful—it was this tainted, complicated love story. It definitely wasn’t a failure. I’m not embarrassed by it by any means. There was just stuff that I wished I’d looked into deeper before jumping on.”
It is certainly very easy for nerds on the internet (myself included) to play Monday Morning Quarterback with films they didn't enjoy, restructuring and recutting them as they see fit, but with Passengers a lot of really solid points were made in the weeks and months after its release. Numerous commentators, including the popular and insightful YouTube channel Nerdwriter, argued that the film could've worked much better if Aurora had been the main character, and if the film actually began with her waking up rather than with Jim's struggle with his isolation. It creates more tension and propels the film as more of a thriller rather than the sci-fi romance it ultimately grows into. Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, but these were still very interesting thoughts.
Lawrence's measured reaction to the Passengers fallout is an example of her acceptance that, as one of the biggest stars working right now, she's both not immune to failures and not immune to self-reflection. I can see another star stopping short of accepting the criticism of the film and simply declaring their pride at having made it. There's no way to know right now how Lawrence will apply the lessons of Passengers to future films, but acknowledging the backlash is, at the very least, a nice gesture.