Written and directed by Neil Burger (Divergent, Limitless), Voyagers has the makings of a well-meaning message all burrito’d up in a science-fiction casing, a time-honored trick of the genre, but it also has the trappings of a project that doesn’t know when to hold back and trust its audience enough to work out some of the ethical equations for themselves. Yes, despite an intriguing concept, and solid performances from its young cast (plus an errant Colin Farrell), the film is too blatant with its themes and, because of that, too safe with its payout. An allegory this thinly-veiled maybe should have gone even further, and been even harsher, with its story and not played things as safe as it does.
Tye Sheridan (X-Men franchise, Ready Player One) and Lily-Rose Depp (Yoga Hosers, The King) capably lead a cast of young performers meant to represent humanity’s last hope. Fionn Whitehead, as Zac, is the crew’s wild card who embodies our base and undisciplined desires while Game of Thrones’ Isaac Hempstead Wright – er – curiously vanishes from the film, it seems, halfway through. Regardless, the ensemble, which also features Farrell as the adult chaperone of the group, is nicely set up as a bomb with a rather lengthy fuse. The question then becomes, onboard a sterile ship that’s designed to be aesthetically muted and blandly functional, what will light said fuse and send everyone spiraling?
We’ve seen sci-fi, and other genres, tackle the idea of starter societies. Stories that study the ins and outs of what ultimately goes wrong when the best-laid plans feel rather foolproof. What is it about our species that steers us toward ruin, even in the midst of a utopia? Voyagers, however, adds an extra layer to this ancient puzzle by giving us a crew whose only mission is to help future generations. They’re literally meant to breed and die, in space, so that their grandchildren can land on a new world. Because of this, they’ve been created in a lab and raised in studious confinement without attachments. It’s an interesting premise because these humans, essentially, have no meaningful history of their own.
Inevitably, despite the mission directives, and Farrell’s mindful Dr. Richard, these dutiful youths begin to crack. Rejecting their “blue drink,” which they discover contains a chemical that inhibits their emotions, they start to warp and run amok. They entertain simply taking what they want and shirking their jobs while quickly learning that fear is a powerful tool to use in order to control others.
Once chaos begins to reign, Voyagers sadly slips a bit. The characters actually start to ask the big questions out loud, depriving the film of any subtlety. And in a bizarre stylistic choice, found footage of volcanos erupting and/or animals stalking each other flash in front of the viewers’ eyes whenever a character experiences violent or carnal urges. These images aren’t in the character’s heads, they’re meant for us. And it feels pretty juvenile.
Voyagers: Colin Farrell Sci Fi Thriller First Look
Sheridan’s Chris and Whitehead’s Zac are set up too easily as opposite sides of the good/evil coin while Depp, more than she should be, is relegated to being the object of the two boys’ affections. It’s a love triangle where one corner, mostly, wants nothing to do with it. Again, the cast is very good, and the way they all have to transform from an automaton state into wildlings is an intriguing metamorphosis, but the script lays everything out in too predictable a manner.
On one level, you can certainly appreciate Voyagers as a fable, where knowing how the story’s going to play out is part of the journey, but other than that the film sits sort of uncomfortably between perhaps being more cerebral by holding back and a project that makes things even crazier, and consequences more brutal, so to balance out the all-but-transparent subtext. The end result is a cool concept hampered by unsubtle execution.