“Passengers”: Stop the World. I Want to Get Off.

“Passengers”: Stop the World. I Want to Get Off.

It might be going a little far to look at a thousand-foot corkscrew throbbing its way through space and say “this is what rape culture looks like,” but it’s undeniable that Passengers is one of the all-time most elaborate illustrations of a radical failure to seek consent.

The starship Avalon (less reliable though just as pretentious as its automotive namesake) is a self-contained environment with a user interface that’s not particularly customizable. That’s challenging for the characters but convenient for the filmmakers, who get to contrive whatever situations they please and chalk it all up to “system failures.” The first such failure in Morten Tyldum’s film, written by John Spaihts, is when the Avalon prematurely resuscitates Jim (Chris Pratt): one of 5,000 individuals snoozing their way through 120 years of spaceflight to reach a distant colony.

(The first indication that Passengers is going to be pulling its punches is that Earth isn’t even described as being a full-on dystopia: it’s just “uncomfortably crowded” for some folks who choose to take the nap of a century.)

With 90 years to go before the Avalon reaches its destination — and no way for Jim to get back to sleep — our hero (or antihero) has a choice. Does he take one for the team and live on alone until his death, or does he browse through the passenger manifest and pick the hottest lady to share his fate?

You’ve seen Jennifer Lawrence on the poster, so you know where this is going. She plays Aurora, a writer of inane prose that of course enraptures her shipmate, who probably didn’t enjoy many literary salons in his engineering frat. I’ll leave you to discover for yourself, should you choose to take this voyage, exactly what happens next — but by this point in the film you’ll also have discovered that when there’s a poignant pause, if you guess that the most obvious possible thing is about to happen, you’ll very often be guessing right.

There’s a certain sturdiness to Passengers: Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and Spaihts (described by Wikipedia as “a go-to guy for space thrillers”) clearly have their checklist, and nothing essential is omitted. Of course, you can also say that about a sofa from Ikea, and I don’t anticipate EKTORP winning a lot of Oscars. The Passengers screenplay has been kicking around Hollywood promising greatness for a decade, and at least now it’s been cleared away to make room for the most disappointing space saga of 2026.

Much of Passengers is perfectly fine, from the ship’s design (white and tasteful, like the film’s lead actors) to the de rigueur zero-gravity showstopper (involving an interstellar infinity pool and a mesh one-piece that Lawrence spends half the movie wearing) to the light gags about Pratt being home alone (though that’s not the ’90s movie that’s most conspicuously referenced) to the supremely convenient crisis that sidelines the passengers’ little squabbles about whether making someone spend 89 years alone with you in space counts as murder.

The heart of the film, really, isn’t its existential debates or its expensive hardware: it’s the meet-cute montage where Jim and Aurora fall for each other. Passengers would have been so much better if it was just that scene set to a 116-minute edit of “I’m Into Something Good.” Arthur the robot bartender (played by Michael Sheen, not a CGI Dudley Moore like you’d hope) could play the music from an iPhone 107 plugged into his armpit while Jim and Aurora bump space helmets and challenge holograms to dance-offs and enjoy missionary sex at a tame 1g.

Lawrence is so much better than this material that the filmmakers should have to pay some sort of penalty for putting her through this. Here’s a fitting suggestion: take 10% of the gross receipts of this gross movie and use the money to fund a promising science fiction script by a female writer. Also, put a woman in the director’s chair. Let’s just wait and see how many cocktail dresses the heroine has to slither out of to get into her spacesuit.

Jay Gabler