There is a hazard in writing a review of a less than great (or less than good) movie that it become simply a litany of what is wrong with the film. The farther from good the movie, the more problems that it has, the more the potential that the review simply turns into a list: x is bad, y is worse, z is abysmal. With that in the back of my mind (and yours) as we proceed, let us discuss writer-director Neil Burger’s “Voyagers.”
Best understood as “Lord of the Flies” in space, “Voyagers” finds humanity approaching the end of the 21st Century and with a plan to save the species from going extinct on our dying Earth – travel to a planet it will take 86 years to get to and populate it. The powers that be make the decision that only children should be sent on this mission, that they should be drugged so that they remain docile, and they should not only practice invitro fertilization but that gestation should be taken care of in a lab as well. The first generation, which consists of 30 kids, is to be raised for a few years on Earth and then be shot into space without an adult (adults will, we’re told, not be able to handle the massive differences in lifestyle required to stay in space for so long). Once the second generation is old enough to take care of themselves, the prior generation will die (presumably be put to death).
While a film need not provide a perfect logic as it moves forward, it needs to make the audience understand why people would proceed in the way that they do. We need not agree with the actions taken, but we do need to understand why someone else might take them.
This is not possible with the basic plan that opens the movie “Voyagers.” There is no sensible argument made that allows for this scheme to move forward. There is no sensible argument by which it is allowed to be altered before it begins so that an adult, Richard (Colin Farrell), does travel with them. The notion is so ill-conceived and presented that there is no reason to believe that anyone on this planet might ever suggest it or believe it could succeed.
Fortunately for those watching, the movie doesn’t take very long to bring us to the point where the plan fails. From there, it’s down the rabbit hole as tribes are formed, with Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) leading the charge for sanity and Zac (Fionn Whitehead) leading the charge for a violent, hedonistic, end to one and all. The rest of the crew, which includes characters played by actors Chanté Adams, Vivek Kalra, Quintessa Swindell, Archie Madekwe, and Madison Hu, end up retreating to their respective corners as the tensions rise.
Unfortunately for those watching, the clash between the two groups isn’t terribly compelling. Christopher is overly bland and Zac oozes a smarmy sort of charmless evil. We can certainly believe that Zac would have a couple followers—he is promoting a lifestyle where people can do whatever they want whenever they want—but the notion that folks in their late-teens or early-20s living in space wouldn’t recognize the basic necessity of ensuring a food supply or the integrity of the ship feels like a bridge too far. A younger group on an island, sure, but an older one in space is a more difficult sell and one which “Voyagers” does not accomplish.
It must be said that it is not a complete failure, there are moments where it does work, chiefly as the climax of the film approaches and the tribalism has reached its peak, but not many. A different, particularly good, scene earlier sees the group convinced by Zac that they ought not believe their eyes and ears but rather his lies. It is the work of a con man and of a group who has been conned and is unwilling to accept the truth. It is all too reminiscent of what we have seen in this country under the previous presidential administration and the lies which continue to be spread to this day.
That scene aside, the movie is largely not saved by the dialogue, nor the delivery of said dialogue, nor the glimpse we get of a futuristic life (which is clean and shiny but rather generic), nor much else. A few particularly poor moments feature all-too-humorless montages as the space cadets go off their meds. These play like a serious version of the coitus montage in “The Naked Gun 2 1/2,” and consequently may cause as many laughs. Although it might benefit those watching that the montages don’t continue throughout, it is odd to get a couple of them early on and then to not feature similar ideas as the movie progresses into its later stages.
There can be no doubt that the overall message of “Voyagers”—given the opportunity, large swaths of humanity will do their best to destroy the whole—is true. However, offering up a great truth doesn’t make up enough ground for the rest of the issues that lie herein. As trite as it may be to end the review in this fashion: this is a trip you should not take.
photo credit: Lionsgate