'Passengers' gets lost in supermassive plot holes

With strange tonal beats and plot holes bigger than Jupiter, this film aims for heady ideas but misses the mark. Caution: spoilers ahead.

Ashley Esqueda Senior Video Producer
Ashley Esqueda is an award-winning video producer and on-air talent based in Los Angeles. She has been playing video games since she was 3 years old, and loves the history of television. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband Jimi, son Wolfgang, and two very squirrely Italian Greyhounds.
Ashley Esqueda
4 min read
Watch this: 'Passengers' stars chat about future space travel, tech

Warning: You will find spoilers ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

Leaving Earth. Saving the last of humanity. The ramifications of waking people up from cryogenic stasis sooner than planned. "Passengers" has some lofty, fascinating concepts, but unfortunately, it never really connects with the core of any of them.

Blue-collar engineer Jim (Chris Pratt) wakes up from stasis way too early during a 120-year trip on an expensive space yacht to a new planet. It's a place he describes as relatively colonial; he's hoping for the chance to start over and become a useful member of society again by building things.

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Jim (Chris Pratt) and Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence): Now that I've woken you up, will you love me?

Columbia Pictures

Jim's pod malfunction occurs after an asteroid breaches the ship's shields, and even though he's an engineer, he can't put himself back into stasis. Oh, and there are 90 years to go before the ship arrives at its destination.

The ship's robot crew and artificial intelligence insist there's never been a malfunctioning pod, and as such there's no backup plan. Which is pretty hard to believe, considering the opulence of the ship. There is one singular medical pod with high-tech diagnosis and healing capabilities for more than 5,000 passengers?!?

If the ship even appears to be heading toward danger, why isn't there a protocol to awaken the ship's crew immediately and put them back into stasis when the danger has passed?

None of that really matters, though, because Jim's not gonna make it to the new planet and he's stuck wandering a silent ship -- save for a scene-stealing android bartender (brought to life by Michael Sheen). As Arthur, Sheen is positively delightful, full of generic-yet-meaningful wisdom and enjoyable one-liners. Honestly, this is the point of the movie where I was sold, because who wouldn't want to live out the rest of their life on a luxury spaceship with an android BFF?

But Jim gets lonely pretty quickly, and we should probably feel bad about that because he's Chris Pratt and he's charismatic and attractive, or something.

One day, after a particularly low point in Jim's solitary existence, he discovers Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) napping in her pod. Here's where things get sketchy. Much as I love Pratt the actor and had actually warmed up to his character, after he finds Aurora, Jim spends all his time obsessing over her. Then he realizes he has the ability to wake her from her sleep. He fights with himself over whether to do it.

The ethics of it all

It's completely, utterly unethical to wake her up -- it's basically a really, really slow death sentence -- but guys, Jim is so lonely! So he hacks Aurora's pod in an act of pure selfishness, wakes her up, and decides to inform her that he's her own personal Grim Reaper some other time.

Sketchy, I know.

After Aurora wakes up and accepts her fate as yet another victim of a randomly malfunctioning pod, the two fall for each other. The chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence is definitely there, but it's hard not to throw shade at Jim through most of the movie, because it's basically Cryostasis Stockholm Syndrome. Except Aurora has no idea she's kind of a hostage.

This is the concept I wish "Passengers" spent more time on, because it's fascinating. How do you get past discovering someone you fell in love with selfishly sentenced you to die because they desperately needed human interaction? I'd hoped the movie would investigate that question and peel back its incredibly complex layers, but after Aurora finds out, she just screams at Jim a lot...and goes jogging.

Then the ship starts failing, inevitably forcing them back together to save the lives of the 5,000 plus people still taking pod naps, like a version of "Speed," but in outer space and without the villainous magic of Dennis Hopper (Fun fact: Keanu Reeves was originally attached to star in this movie opposite Reese Witherspoon. Space "Speed" lives!)

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While Pratt and Lawrence's star power is enough to get viewers through the film without feeling actively angry, the plot holes are huge and unavoidable (and that's saying something for a sci-fi flick).

When the ship starts falling apart, the movie does the same, throwing wrenches into the interesting character study "Passengers" could have been, and instead turning the final act into a "Titanic"-esque rescue mission with some pretty far-fetched action.

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It's like "Titanic" -- in space.

Columbia Pictures

Even a surprise appearance by Laurence Fishburne isn't enough to help the sloppy disaster portion of the movie, and perhaps screenwriter Jon Spaihts tossed it in there because he felt a sci-fi movie of this scale needed a massive action sequence.

In the end, though, the action is just a distraction from the core issues the movie could have, and should have, offered insight into (or solved!).

There are interesting questions at the core of "Passengers": Should forcibly waking someone from cryogenesis long before they're supposed to be awake, be considered murder even if you're still alive? How do you find the strength and courage to forgive the person who did that to you? Would you forgive your killer? What kinds of ways would they find to work through something that huge and crushing, particularly if they were forced to live out the rest of their life with their killer and nobody else?

We hear instances of family members and loved ones forgiving murderers -- "Passengers" had the chance to tell a story from a truly new perspective, and completely dropped the ball.

For now, I have to settle for feeling a little like Jim and Aurora in the movie's first half: Not sure how I got here, and kind of sad this wasn't quite what I expected or hoped it would be.