SPOILERS because everything wrong with this movie is the plot
Passengers starts out like it’s going to be an existential sci-fi horror movie, something along the lines of Ex Machina, perhaps, where the science fiction premise is used to examine questions of morals and ethics, and the plot revolves around a small cast trapped together, forcing them to work through the moral math problems set before them. I want to give credit to the writer, Jon Spaihts, who is responsible for the interesting version of Prometheus, before Damon Lindelof ruined it, and also contributed to the really quite sharp script of Doctor Strange. Every once in a while you can catch a glimpse of that maybe-movie, where a couple of protagonists wrangle ethics in space. But most of the time, Passengers is the dumbest movie: It has all the consent issues of Sleeping Beauty and a dash of Beauty and the Beast’s Stockholm Syndrome. It’s the best worst movie of the year.
Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is taking a hundred and twenty year nap on his way to his destination, a colonized planet called Homestead II. It’s the future, and colonizing planets in other galaxies is big business (one of those interesting angles left largely unexplored). Jim is basically a future indentured servant—for the ticket across space, he’ll give a portion of his earnings on his new world to the company that sent him there. He’s a mechanic, you see, and just wants to live in a world where things can be repaired, not replaced. He wants to build a house with his own hands and be a Man in a way it’s implied it’s impossible to be on future Earth. Forget feminism—it turns out, technology killed masculinity.
But Jim wakes up ninety years early, and the first thirty minutes of Passengers is pretty solid, as he learns to live alone on a huge fancy spaceship where everything is clean and bright and polished (Star Wars this is not). He grows a sadness beard and walks around naked—Chris Pratt does not skip leg day—makes friends with the robot bartender (Michael Sheen), and resigns himself to dying alone in space. It’s pretty much just Castaway in space, but Pratt carries it well.
But wait! One day, on the verge of suicide, he sees a beautiful sleeping woman named Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence). She’s basic as f*ck—she’s a journalist whose work always sounds one second away from a declarative: “I love pumpkin spice!”—but she’s JLaw so he debates with himself for a few days whether or not to wake her up so he won’t be alone anymore, and again, here we trend into something interesting and again, it’s shut down immediately. Jim wakes Aurora, passes off her waking as a malfunction, and Passengers shifts gears and becomes Space Rom-Com: Dating Your Stalker.
There’s a date montage and they fall in love despite having nothing in common except a general state of wakefulness, and bridge a pretty steep class divide that neither of them acknowledge, and then they christen the ship with PG-13 sex. Pratt and Lawrence have acceptable chemistry but their sex scenes are so edited down it completely undercuts any notion that maybe they bond through intense physical attraction. There’s really no convincing argument for why these two should be together, except that Jim decided they should be, which is EXTREMELY CREEPY.
Of course Aurora eventually finds out and Passengers again shifts gears, and yet again flirts with being interesting as Aurora must come to grips with Jim essentially murdering her. But once again, the ethical/moral debate is dropped in favor of Titanic In Space! right down to the “there’s only room for one” thing and why Aurora doesn’t leap on her chance to get the f*ck away from creepy f*cking Jim shall become one of cinema’s greatest mysteries.
Passengers is an incredibly creepy movie in which a woman succumbs to Stockholm Syndrome and falls for her stalker and stays with him even though the stupid ending wants to be ambiguous but it’s not, this movie never met the concept of subtlety. Laurence Fishburne shows up for about twenty minutes in the middle because the plot has to advance and these two bozos are incapable of doing it on their own, and there is a slew of laugh-out-loud conveniences making the whole thing work. Passengers is supremely gross and dumb as sh*t, but it’ll probably work for a lot of people because it’s a big Hollywood movie with big Hollywood stars and just enough remnants of an intelligent movie to trick people into thinking it’s about something. But all Passengers is about is a man literally Nice Guying a woman to death. In space.