Plenty of films have dealt with the possibility of another habitable planet in the universe, as well as the existential need for such a place, given how humans have not treated the Earth well over the course of history. While some films go the philosophical route or explore the dangers of space travel, the makers of the new film Voyagers figured they would be different and just make it about horny and angry teenagers.
In the world of the film, humanity has come up with a plan to send a group of people to a newly discovered Earth-like planet after Earth has grown too hot and filled with drought and disease to sustain life. But because it will take 86 years to reach said planet, the group is made up almost entirely of young people, born and raised in isolation, whose children and grandchildren will be the ones to actually set foot on the new world.
Mission leader Richard (Colin Farrell) does his best to keep the group in line, mostly through the use of a blue drink that suppresses the kids’ hormonal urges. But when two of them, Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead), discover the truth about the drink, they stop taking it, setting in motion a series of events that allows the young people to experience their full range of emotions for the first time, for good and for bad.
Written and directed by Neil Burger, the film skips over a lot of ethical and practical questions about the space journey in favor of getting right to the juicy part of kids acting crazy in a confined space. The big problem is that because the group has been emotionally stilted since birth, anyone who acts out seems supremely odd, and not in a good-for-the-story kind of way.
Burger seems to have given his cast permission to act as strange as possible, leading to a host of awkward moments where one person is acting over the top while another is staring blankly. What’s meant to be an interesting juxtaposition between characters who are finally seeing the light and those still under the drug’s spell comes off instead as goofy, laughable interactions.
And that’s to say nothing of Burger trying to inject a possible alien story into the mix. For kids who’ve been sheltered literally their entire lives, they sure seem to know a lot about things they’ve never seen before. The third act of the film succeeds somewhat as an action set piece, but because the film doesn’t establish many connections between characters earlier, there’s not much to hold on to in the end.
Both Sheridan (Ready Player One) and Whitehead (Dunkirk) are actors on the rise, but neither is done any favors by the inert script. Lily-Rose Depp, whose character is in a sort of love triangle with Christopher and Zac, has a nice presence that serves her well in her first major role. Most of the rest of the actors remain as anonymous as their characters.
Voyagers brings up a lot of questions about the future of humanity, the Earth, and space travel, but instead of trying to address those in any meaningful way, it instead throws a bunch of hormonal teenagers together merely to see what happens. The result is not exciting on any level, and should not be sought out by moviegoers desperate for a trip to the theater.
Voyagers is playing now in theaters.