Voyagers Review: A massively missed opportunity for sci-fi freshness
The latest film from Limitless and Divergent director Neil Burger, Voyagers, is a sci-fi thriller full of great narrative potential that ends up missing the mark hard.
The film’s first act really opens on a strong note with its incredibly promising premise and great execution. Although the idea of a space voyage from Earth to another inhabitable is pretty played out at this point, who the voyagers are actually makes it more unique. Rather than send trained astronauts that wouldn’t be alive by the time they reached their destination, a group of children are sent under the supervision of an astronaut named Richard (Colin Farrell) to keep the ship operational and procreate so that their grandchildren will be the planet’s first inhabitants. On paper, the premise sounds strange, but Burger makes it incredibly captivating in its opening moments with how he establishes the psychological and emotional aspects of the characters and their mission.
The idea of these kids being solely raised on a ship so that they don’t miss Earth is really interesting and the way the kids, who we eventually see grow into young adults, question the importance of their lives and their mission is oddly timely. They question why they should care about their mission if they’re never going to see the planet and the idea of it being for their grandchildren certainly isn’t enough to vindicate them. There’re great parallels to some people’s views on not wanting to act on racial, environmental, and other social issues as they believe “the next generation will solve” these issues. It’s interesting to see this explored in a film and watch the discussions between Richard and the crew about the importance of their mission.
Even more interesting is the introduction of “The Blue” – a drink the crew must take daily to suppress their emotions and essentially make them mindless worker bees. When two crewmates Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead) decide to stop taking The Blue they are suddenly filled with emotions and feelings they have no idea how to handle. Things like sexual desire, pain, anger, and adrenaline are suddenly a part of them and it’s really compelling to watch them try to understand everything. Burger also adds some great visuals that are reminiscent of Limitless that heighten the impact of these emotions and feelings rushing into these people for the first time.
The performances are especially great at the start with how Sheridan and Whitehead bring out the impact of Christopher and Zac feeling these emotions for the first time. They feel unleashed in a way that really draws you into everything they do, and this rush of emotions bring out their real characteristic. Whitehead is darkly intriguing with how Zac’s hyper-masculinity is brought out in disturbing and devastating ways and Sheridan is great as Christopher as he tries to understand these new feelings and questions Richard’s trustworthiness. The dynamic between Richard and Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) also brings out more conversations about why they should be invested in their mission even if they won’t see the destination. Ferrell delivers a great performance that shows Richard’s admirable views of his mission and Depp acts as a good balance between Richard and the two boys’ different views.
The first act presents something really unique that the rest of the film totally flounders on. There’s this alien force that’s an interesting mystery at first, but then totally consumes the film. The paranoia that drives the rest of the film stems from this added plot element and all the great themes around emotions and the psychology of their mission get sucked out into space. The unique performances and character depth get lost in the generic power struggle that occurs and it feels like all the suspense and mystery in the film is totally drained. Even when the film tries to bring its conversations about emotions and human behavior, it just gets lost again in the familiar narrative territory it wallows in most of the time. Its depictions of men getting emotions is just generic animalistic and sexual behavior and the film barely even explores female emotion outside of sexual nature. The ending is especially unsatisfying because of how the mission becomes an unimportant part of the story and you stop caring about the characters because it just shifts them into unremarkable good guy/bad guy roles.
Voyagers is a film that shoots itself in the foot and one that I genuinely wanted to like. Its opening is chock full of intriguing character and narrative potential that becomes completely lost into the uninteresting and familiar power struggle that unfolds. It’s a massively missed opportunity.