When I watched the trailer, I was intrigued. Voyagers appeared to have an interesting premise and starred Colin Farrell. The trailer also featured the teen stars of the film and imaginative ideas. Colin Farrell can be excellent, especially in the right role and the idea of a generation spaceship with teenagers was something I looked forward to watching. However, the characters were difficult to connect to, the beginning of the film slow, and the execution of the main premise not well executed.
Directed and written by Neil Burger, Voyagers is the story of a multi-generational spaceship sent out into space in order to locate a new home to save the people of Earth. Led by Richard (Colin Farrell), the crew are bred and raised to handle the isolation of the trip. But the crew of teenagers is being drugged to diminish their emotions and keep them calm. When a few find out and quit taking their “Blue”, emotions run wild, chaos descends, unable to distinguish if a threat exists outside the ship or if the true threat is inside. Will the crew, including their leaders, Christopher (Tye Sheridan), Sela (Lily Rose-Depp), and Zac (Fionn Whitehead), discover the better part of their natures or embrace the madness?
First, the writing on the wall. This is essentially the Lord of the Flies in space. A group of young people going wild and throwing out the rules they’ve existed with their whole lives. Visually, the scenes and set design for the ship are well designed. The ship looks authentic and is set up logically for a generational ship, with tools for learning for the teenagers and equipment standard to most ships we use today so they are recognizable. The ideas are intriguing, with the question of nurture versus nature part of the concept and asking whether we will embrace the best of humanity or become monsters under the right scenario. And even the idea of emotion suppression, teenagers dealing with hormones out of control is fascinating. All of these ideas made me want to enjoy this film far more than I actually did.
And in evaluating the film fairly, the actors were decent in their performances. Colin Farrell was warm and engaging in his role, as a parental figure for the teenaged crew. He also was utilized well in communicating some of the ideas the writer/director wanted to be articulated. He is dynamic and helps propel some of the first halves of the film. Tye Sheridan, Lily Rose-Depp, and Fionn Whitehead are all solid in their performances as well, portraying the flatness of emotion and wild hormones fairly well. As they are the primary focus of the film, the interactions between all three are handled well.
What doesn’t work is the actual execution. Part of it is a flawed premise. It is clear that the writer wanted to set up Lord of the Flies in space and set up the story to do so. The problem really is in the believability. The writing wants us to believe that the only way a crew would be able to deal with the isolation and the demands of the mission is if they are bred and trained for the role from birth. This couldn’t be further from the truth as our own space program aptly illustrates day in and out. Astronauts are able to be trained without many issues and are perfectly willing to handle the danger. By setting up the premise like this, it underestimates the young actors and sets up the characters so that you can never truly explore nature versus nurture because the characters are never allowed to truly choose the mission, to be dedicated and loyal to the idea of saving the human race and so those same characters obviously are going to fall apart once they find out they’re being lied to and when their leader dies. The idea of a lack of emotions doesn’t seem like a great idea with hormonal teens either, and it seems like scientists would know this.
In addition to my lack of buy-in of the premise once it was fully presented, I also found the slow pace and the lack of emotion in the teenage crew caused me a lack of connection with both the story and the characters. I couldn’t empathize with the characters. I connected with Colin Farrell’s character but he dies within the first quarter of the film and the choices that the teenagers make in devolving to chaos seemed ill-advised when trapped in space on the ship that is keeping them alive. Teenagers with out-of-control emotions might not necessarily make the best choices in a crisis but some of the choices are also super convenient and predictable. The scenes are flat both because of the lack of emotion but also because of the predictability. I had no problem, for example, figuring out the real source of the crisis.
If you like the idea of Lord of the Flies in space, this might be something you would like. The lack of emotions and subsequent hormonal wildness is well presented by the actors and Colin Farrell is completely engaging in his role. I also found the ending satisfactory as it asks and answers the question of whether the best of humanity is worth saving. If the story had been better executed or the crew presented as better taught about their role in saving humanity, I would have found the intrigue more driving and the story more engaging. Ultimately, even with the best of acting, I found myself not connecting to the characters or plot but others may disagree and may like the theoretical exploration that happens within the movie.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 generations
Voyagers opens exclusively in theaters on Friday, April 9, 2021.