Synopsis: With the future of the human race at stake, a group of young men and women embark on an expedition to colonize a distant planet. But when they uncover disturbing secrets about the mission, they defy their training and begin to explore their most primitive natures.
Stars: Colin Farrell, Lily-Rose Depp, Tye Sheridan, Fionn Whitehead, Archie Madekwe, Chanté Adams, Quintessa Swindel, Madison Hu, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Viveik Kalra
Director: Neil Burger
Running Length: 108 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: It’s an odd thing to look over the IMDb credits for director Neil Burger and see just how many of his films have found eerie similarities in other work. Though it technically came out first, 2006’s The Illusionist is often dwarfed in memory by Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige which also featured dueling magicians and a woman that causes trouble between them. The surprise 2011 hit Limitless may have secured some box office clout for Bradley Cooper but it had all the calling cards of a Luc Besson film just without the Frenchman’s guts to go truly wild. Burger was behind the start of the Divergent series which was on shaky legs even in 2014 when it suffered big time comparisons to The Hunger Games, and this was before it released two more Burger-less sequels that were so bad they didn’t bother to even make the last movie. Remaking the French blockbuster The Intouchables as The Upside in 2017 seemed like a ghastly prospect but while Burger’s take was harmless it made so much money that who directed it didn’t seem to matter much.
That brings us to Voyagers, which won’t remind you so much of any movie you’ve seen recently but perhaps a book you may have trotted out during quarantine. Plenty of reviews of Burger’s new sci-fi yarn will correctly label it as Lord of the Flies set in space but to just put it in that ready-made box is doing a disservice to William Golding’s 1954 morality barometer disguised as a dystopian novel as well as this Lionsgate production which is entertainment at its coldest and most obvious. Yes, it follows an uprising that divides two factions of young adults left to fend for themselves in a solitude from which there is no hope of escape, but Burger doesn’t forget what his job is in this concoction. His audience isn’t at home under the covers reading a browning paperback by flashlight. They’re in a theater (if you’re into that kind of thing being fully vaccinated and/or masked up) where this film opens on Friday or, as Voyagers will be in several weeks, in their homes waiting for the fun to begin.
With the Earth’s resources being depleted at a rapid rate, scientists continue to explore the boundaries of space for signs that there could be another planet humans could survive on. Forty years from now, that planet is found but it will take another 86 years to get there. A crew will need to be assembled to travel to this new world and report back what they find, but due to the time it will take to get there the crew that starts out the mission won’t be the ones that actually make the discovery…their grandchildren will. Unable to find a crew of thirty to make that commitment, the team behind the mission resort to conceiving them via IVF with, ahem, contributions from the best and brightest minds of the day.
Watching over these children as they grow (literally) is Richard (Colin Farrell, Dumbo) a scientist that winds up being the sole chaperone when the young crew finally enter space and begin their journey. Ten years later, the group are now teens that go about their daily ship business with a detached efficiency that’s only upset after Christopher (Tye Sheridan, Mud) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead, Dunkirk) stop taking ‘the blue’, a daily dose of liquid they discover has a mood controlling and sensory dulling drug added in. Free to finally feel for the first time, the rest of the squad follows suit including Sela (Lily-Rose Depp, Tusk) the pretty chief medical officer that’s both a confidant to Richard and his bridge to the other teens. Sela also begins to catch the eye of the newly hormonal Christopher and Zac, both fueled by alpha male frustration that’s built up for quite some time.
After an accident leaves them stranded, on their own, and unable to communicate with Earth, at first the niceties of protocol are followed until Zac and others (including Midsommar’s Archie Madekwe) realize that no one is going to hold them accountable for stepping out of line. They’ve been bred to produce and that’s all so why not take as much as they want, when they want it, while they can? This pits former friends against one another and forces all to take sides. The wider the division gets, the larger the danger of everyone losing in the end becomes.
It’s easy to be a bit confused by Voyagers at first glance. The trailers make it look like a clunky C-list castoff you’d settle on when all else fails and the poster gives off the impression it’s more of an erotic trip into teen space angst. So I was surprised that the first half of the film gets off to a rather crackling start, luring the audience in with an engaging premise and laying the groundwork for an intriguing mystery that might factor into the plot (I won’t spoil it). Burger takes his time with things…at first. Rather suddenly, however, the rushing begins and the time between realization and full on knowledge of the facts shortens considerably for everyone in the film. Everyone just seems to “know” what things mean the moment they see them, or if they don’t, they understand it quickly and these leaps are more for the plot to continue to make haste than anything else.
It’s also a bit uncomfortable to watch the teens embrace their hormones with such vigor – one character goes from touching a girl’s shoulder to pretty much honking her breast in an instant. I know none of them have experienced these sensations before, but have they never read a book or learned about etiquette? It’s like the scientists taught the boys everything but how not to fondle girls and taught the women all about plant hydroponics yet skipped over the “no means no” conversation. The male dominance of it all was a bit suffocating and if Burger had just given one female a bit of the nasty business to do instead of relegating it all to the guys it might have come off better. As it is, the females become galactic wallpaper, aside from the standout Chanté Adams (Bad Hair) as a strict-rule follower that won’t be silenced by the bullies that have risen to power. While we’re talking about the cast, Sheridan comes across like he always does…perfectly fine but terribly shallow. If you ask me, Depp reminds me more of her model turned actress mother Vanessa Paradis than her much in the news Oscar-nominated father, and that’s not a bad thing in the least. The standout in the cast is Whitehead who achieves a goal of creating an oily villain that you can easily root against – none of this ‘redeeming quality’ nonsense.
Despite some sag in the middle which shows some areas where the 108-minute film could be trimmed a bit, Burger gets to a fairly lively final act quite nicely. While the effects aren’t going to win any awards, for a film of this size and with a cast of this caliber (no shade here, all are decent and acquit themselves nicely in roles that carry troublesome moments throughout) they mostly look good but I’d imagine they’d appear crisper in a theatrical setting. For fans of sci-fi or space like myself, Voyagers is a worthy watch but know that it’s purely surface level material that is good for a distraction and little more.