Many are describing "Voyagers" as "Lord of the Flies" in space, because that's the quickest and most effective way to describe what it's all about. But despite the talented young cast and a sleek, futuristic look, "Voyagers" drifts a little too far away from relevancy.
Director Neil Burger ("The Upside," "Divergent") writes and directs "Voyagers," a science-fiction film that has something to say about the human condition and the idea of living in the now versus planning for the future. It also deals with the idea of external versus internal threats, something that shows like "The Walking Dead" do to perfection (the REAL threat isn't the zombies, it's the humans among us). What starts off as promising however, devolves quickly into something predictable, and in some ways, cartoonish. It relies on several genre tropes which in and of itself isn't a sin...the sin comes in not having anything new to say.
In the near future, when climate change begins to ravage and leaves our planet uninhabitable, humans finally discover another planet in which life can exist. The only rub: It's an 86-year journey. To properly attempt this Herculean mission, it would require sending children into space, who would then mate at some point on their journey, who would then have offspring themselves...basically, it's the grand-children of the original astronauts that would end up arriving at the destination planet. Scientist Richard Alling (Colin Farrell) decides the best way forward is to accompany the minors himself, so he does.
The children that are sent on the mission were bred for the occasion...they were created in a lab and were raised without any attachments whatsoever, so that their emotions would never cloud the overriding mission objectives. As they grow up in space, they are given "The Blue," a liquid that keeps them docile and in check, so that they can peacefully fulfill their duties.
But once these voyagers reach young adulthood, their natural instincts begin to take over. The capable, good-natured Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and the more volatile Zac (Fionn Whitehead) discover that they are being drugged, and they stop taking The Blue in secret. Chief Medical Officer Sela (Johnny Depp's daughter, Lily-Rose Depp) suddenly is irresistibly attractive, and they start to question their life's purpose. It is unlikely that any of them will ever reach the planet themselves...their greatest task is to populate the ship with the next generation.
At this precise moment of self-awakening, tragedy strikes and the young men and women are left to their own devices. Is there really an alien outside of the ship? Or has it gotten inside? Is there really an alien at all? Zac breaks from protocol and takes about half the crew with him, wanting to fornicate and enjoy their own lives, the mission be damned. Christopher and Sela are on the other side of things, knowing that they must stay strong and together or the future of mankind will cease to exist.
Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp and Fionn Whitehead are all fantastic, and other fine young actors fill out the ensemble (like Game of Thrones alum Isaac Hempstead Wright, Chanté Adams, Quintessa Swindell and Viveik Kaira particularly), but given the nature of the story, they aren't developed enough for us to truly care about them. The story dictates that they were mostly created as blank slates, but that doesn't help the audience latch on to them. Mostly, each of them represents a larger ideal instead of bringing us an actual personality: Christopher is the angel on one shoulder with Zac the devil on the other...there's the logical one, the illogical one, the primal one, the curious one, etc.
Cinematographer Enrique Chediak ("Deepwater Horizon," "127 Hours") creates an equally claustrophobic and clean environment, with spaceship corridors that seemingly go on for miles and miles, adding to the metaphor that these children are trying to find their way and don't quite know where to go. It evokes "2001: A Space Odyssey," and a fight sequence late in the film taking place in a chamber lock is quite impressive.
But with the good - and there is some - "Voyagers" is outweighed by the bad, mostly in how this journey will leave viewers feeling like they've already been on this one several times before. It's not that it isn't effective, it's more so that it feels tired. Like the event in the film that begets the drama, "Voyagers" could have used a jolt to prevent it from heading on a course that undeniably feels stuck in the past, not paving the way for the future.
Genre: Adventure, Science Fiction, Thriller.
Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes.
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Fionn Whitehead, Lily-Rose Depp, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Colin Farrell, Chanté Adams, Quintessa Swindell, Viveik Kaira.
Written and Directed by Neil Burger ("The Upside," "Divergent," "Limitless," "The Lucky Ones").
"Voyagers" is in theaters on Friday, April 9th, 2021.
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