By Lynn Venhaus
In yet another exploration on how humans are wired and the inevitable devil inside, “Voyagers” is ultimately a stale old story, yet spruced up with fancy technology and a diverse crop of young actors.
Thinking ahead, because Earth has climate issues, scientists raise a group of children, bred for intelligence and obedience, to embark on an expedition in 2063 to colonize a distant planet and save the human race. Cut to 10 years later. Now young adults, they rebel against the mission’s constraints. As their primitive natures, fears and hunger for power come out in the group dynamic, they descend into chaos.
Written and directed by Neil Burger, who uses some slick techniques from his cautionary designer drug science fiction thriller “Limitless” and borrows from the youth friction examples in his first “Divergent” movie. However, the narrative tropes and trappings are too generic and sterile for a different kind of space odyssey.
Sadly, as much as I liked this premise, think about it — scientific experiments rarely seem to work out well in using the allure of the final frontier. We should know by now from previous far-flung film forays and “Voyagers” fails to set itself apart.
Thus, this coed hormones-gone-crazy outer space version of “The Lord of the Flies” winds up dour and depressing.
Colin Farrell is Richard, the benevolent caretaker of these test-tube kids raised in isolation. On the ship, he is a dutiful mentor, but some of the boys discover that the blue liquid they drink daily is toxic. Richard knows it keeps them docile robot-like minions for a reason. But oh, they want none of that – so they stop taking it in the name of freedom. Bad idea. ‘Let’s do whatever we want!’ doesn’t turn out so well and behavior goes downhill from there.
Now that they think Richard has betrayed them, Zac (Fionn Whitehead) becomes a monster. Angry that he is passed over as the leader after a horrible accident – or is it? – he gaslights the impressionable youth and targets the chosen leader Christopher (Tye Sheridan) as the one to distrust.
The pragmatic Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) sees through Zac and is loyal to Christopher, forming an alliance with a small group. It gets downright ugly and bloody – and tedious. Zac has also convinced his allies that there is an alien on board. So, there is that. Their dialogue goes from bad to worse, and there is no way to rescue these kids from this lackluster script.
Now, the stark setting of white corridors gets as monotonous as the characters, clad in uniform black t-shirts and pants, as they run around the ship. The monochromatic scheme is dull, even with all the bells and whistles of a spaceship prepped for an 86-year journey.
As the action descends into chaos, tension does build, but you know what the climactic battle will be. After all that, we see a montage of the next 76 years, which seems to be an easy way out (but no escape from all the cliches).
Cinematographer Enrique Chediak is fond of racing shots as the kids run through the halls either in flight or fight mode.
The ominous score by Trevor Gureckis does add to the creepiness of the claustrophobic setting.
Because the characters are destined to be conformists, the ensemble is rather bland – lacking spark and something to make them memorable. Only a handful distinguish themselves, including the principal triangle of Christopher, Zac and Sela.
Sheridan, who played Cyclops in the X-Men prequels and the lead in “Ready Player One,” is capable as a natural leader aboard the ship while Whitehead’s intensity deepens his sinister vibe as the boy –surprise! – who goes rogue. He was Tommy in “Dunkirk,” but as in that film you couldn’t tell the young soldiers apart either. He does stand out here.
Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose is just starting out, but this is not really a breakthrough role, although she is sympathetic and the link to Richard’s past life on earth.
“Voyagers” was an opportunity for a fresh look at a futuristic solution to our planet’s plight of drought and disease, but came up short.
“Voyagers” is a science-fiction thriller written and directed by Neil Burger. It stars Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp and Fionn Whitehead. Run time is 1 hour, 48 minutes and it is rated PG-13 for violence, some strong sexuality, bloody images, a sexual assault and brief strong language. In theaters on April 9. Lynn’s Grade: C.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.