2021, PG-13, 108 min. Directed by Neil Burger. Starring Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Colin Farrell, Fionn Whitehead, Chanté Adams, Archie Madekwe, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Quintessa Swindell, Madison Hu.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., April 9, 2021
If you’ve been paying attention to the world, to history, or to your own personal motivations, it becomes pretty clear that more often than not, humanity’s baser, compulsory urges are pulling the strings. Centuries of art and philosophy may have mapped out our nature and cautioned against misbegotten trajectories, but when reality increasingly eclipses Swift, Orwell, Atwood et al., those stories become downright quaint by comparison. A misanthropic worldview, perhaps, but healthy skepticism is standard issue in today’s mental toolkit. And while the “Lord of the Flies in space” premise of Voyagers has the obvious potential to examine trenchant and timeless issues of human nature, the resulting film is a toothless morality tale bereft of even a dash of uniqueness. Quaint, indeed.
In a thankfully brisk opening 10 minutes, we learn A) Earth in 2063 is dying, must find new planet; B) New planet is 86 years away, must genetically manufacture beings with the best DNA to send so their grandchildren can colonize new planet; C) Rigorous structure is needed so space kids don’t go crazy living entire life on spaceship, must send Colin Farrell as shepherd/father figure. The film cuts to a decade later, and the cute space kids are now the beautiful space teens. There is Christopher (Sheridan), earnest and thoughtful, the natural leader due to his reluctance to be one. There is Zac (Whitehead), mischievous and slightly cruel, the natural antagonist in the coming conflict. Completing the triangle is Sela (Depp), taciturn and somber, the natural catalyst to the dissolution of this social microcosm. Well, first there is the discovery of the drug that they’ve been given to numb them from their sex drives and impulse control. Farrell’s Richard attempts benevolent misdirection, but sows further dissension, and once he is removed, and the drug’s effect removed, the colony ship turns into every unsupervised teenage house party. Fights and chaste couplings are augmented by existential queries on the unimportance of their lives, and whether they should even continue their mission since their role in saving the human race is utterly thankless. Zac turns up the heat by manufacturing an alien presence on the ship, the classic fear and suspicion gambit, making everyone choose sides and setting up the third act.
Even forgetting the missed opportunities in Voyagers (there are many), the way the film does address these themes of civilization vs. savagery, man’s inherent evil, mob mentality is summed up in this exchange: “Why have they all gone crazy?” “Maybe they haven’t. Maybe this is what they’re really like.” Look, if you’re gonna hinge the movie on a line like that, you better be distracting us with wildly entertaining spaceship action. Not the case here, unfortunately, as mostly you’re just dabbing space movie bingo slots: secret weapons cache, something needed is conveniently destroyed, scurrying around in ducts, and ever the center square, climactic airlock confrontation. More thought seems to have gone into the future foodstuff and eating utensil design than in the narrative. It’s a lazy film, one whose future will most likely live on in mediocre undergraduate term papers. Oh, the humanity.