“Voyagers” (now playing in theaters) is like “Lord of the Flies” meets the 2016 Jennifer Lawrence/Chris Pratt vehicle “Passengers” … only hornier.
It’s the early 2070s. Colin Farrell plays Richard, a scientist who accompanies 30 children on a space mission (Eat your heart out, Ms. Frizzle!) to a faraway planet in order colonize it and continue humankind after Earth’s grown almost uninhabitable due to global warming. These kids were bioengineered in laboratories using the genetic makeup of our best and brightest. The journey will take 86 years, which means the crew will need to reproduce aboard the ship and the children’s children and grandchildren will be the ones to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Ten years into their trip the kids have grown into young adults. Their most primal urges are kept at bay using a solution referred to as “The Blue.” The crew is told this is a vitamin supplement, but it’s actually a drug that suppresses their hormones and a whole gamut of emotions including love, hate, anger and fear. Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead of “Dunkirk”) discover this deception and cease taking “The Blue.” Without the drug each of the young men’s interests are piqued by Sela (Lily-Rose Depp, daughter of Johnny), the ship’s Chief Medical Officer. Other crew members follow suit and soon they’re all fucking and fighting like it’s Woodstock ’99.
Much of what makes “Voyagers” work is its game cast. Farrell brings a palpable paternal energy to the proceedings. I’m predisposed to liking Sheridan as he was in two movies I love as a youngster – those being “The Tree of Life” and “Mud.” I also think Sheridan is the best on-screen incarnation of the X-Men’s Cyclops to date. (Seriously, check out his action sequences in “Dark Phoenix.”) Sheridan brings a lot of the nobility and stoicism inherent to Cyclops to the role of Christopher. This is probably the best Depp’s been during her burgeoning career. That’s not saying a whole lot as “Yoga Hosers” is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen and her last role in “Crisis” consisted mostly of being tied to a bed by Armie Hammer. It’s kinda eerie watching Depp work as she looks so strikingly much like her Mom (French singer, model and actress Vanessa Paradis) and especially like her Dad, but she reads as smart and likable here.
As good as these folks are the standout is clearly Whitehead. I absolutely detest the character of Zac, but Whitehead plays him skillfully. Zac reminds me of our last President in that he thinks he can grab women when and where he wants and uses peoples’ fear of the “other” in order to have them do his hateful bidding.
Not all of the actors are gifted such juicy roles. Isaac Hempstead Wright AKA Bran Stark is about as useless here as he was on “Game of Thrones.” The talented Viviek Kalra of “Blinded by the Light” is given an absolute nothingburger of a sacrificial lamb character.
“Voyagers” is written and directed by Neil Burger (“The Illusionist,” “Limitless”). Burger’s a competent filmmaker and this is an entertaining enough movie, but the tale unfolds in a highly predictable manner. Much of the runtime is spent depicting Burger’s good-looking cast sprinting through corridors – it half made me wanna do my best impression of a curmudgeonly elementary school teacher and holler, “Stop running in the hallway!”
“Voyagers” pushes the limits of its PG-13 rating with hints of sexuality and violence, but it ultimately feels like a young adult novel and somewhat akin to something like Burger’s “Divergent.” (Burger has suggested that the film initially received an R rating and that he’s interested in releasing a director’s cut at some point.) Burger and his collaborators should be applauded for the diversity of their cast, but the PG-13 rating hamstrings them with solely straight couplings. (There are 31 people on this ship and not a one of ‘em is gay? I don’t think so!) I’d be curious to see what somebody like Gregg Araki would do with this material. Paul Verhoeven could certainly do something compelling combining sex and violence in space too … in fact he already has … a coupla times.