Voyagers touches upon various ideas that we’ve seen explored in other sci-fi and young adult stories. Just because an idea isn’t new doesn’t mean that it can’t still spark some interesting conversations. While Voyagers asks thought-provoking questions, the answers are fairly predictable. The audience can quickly figure out who’s going to be the hero, who’s going to be the villain, and what the message will be. Deprived of many surprises, the film blends in with a dozen projects that tackled these themes with more bite.
The movie starts promising enough with Earth deteriorating and the human race hanging the balance. To preserve the species, it’s decided to send a group of thirty genetically altered passengers on an 86-year voyage to a new world. Naturally, not everyone will live to see the end of the mission, but their children and grandchildren will have a fighting chance. The talented cast is led by the reliable Tye Sheridan of Ready Player One as Christopher Rebbs. Also onboard is Lily-Rose Depp’ Sela, Fionn Whitehead’s Zac, and Colin Farrell’s Richard, the only adult chaperon. Every other character is generic and forgettable, but there’s kind of a reason for that.
The teens have unknowingly been taking drugs that keep their emotions and hormones in check. Once Christopher and Zac catch on, they decide to go off their medication. While Chris controls his urges regardless, Zac immediately turns into a weasely sexual predator eager to start a mutiny. He’s a villain about as subtle as… eh, most real-life politicians. Chris and Sela attempt to maintain order, but Zac continues to divide the ship through fear and paranoia. Soon enough, our characters are presented with ethical questions about survival, human nature, and who to believe during times of crisis.
Of all the stories Voyages echoes, the most obvious is Lord of the Flies. The film practically repeats William Golding’s classic novel beat for beat, even substituting the beast with an alien. Although setting Lord of the Flies in space sounds intriguing, the commentary here doesn’t have the same impact due to the one-note characters and bland execution. Compared to more modern works, Voyages isn’t stimulating enough to compete with High Life, which also mixed procreation with paranoia against an outer space backdrop. Aesthetically, the film looks like Passengers, Life, and too many others to list here. Most of the film consists of the characters talking in darkly lit rooms, making for a visually unengaging experience.
Voyages was written and directed by Neil Burger, who’s made a few good films like the underrated The Illusionist. He’s best known, however, for the first Divergent movie, which struggled to get out from under The Hunger Games’ shadow. Likewise, Voyages is another film that searches for an identity, but it comes off as a flat imitation. Its performances are solid, and its message isn’t without merit, especially when political manipulation is such a hot-button issue. In another 86 years, though, people will still be reading Lord of the Flies while this film will have faded into obscurity.