Review: Voyagers — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

Writer/director Neil Burger creates a mostly entertaining stew in this suspense-thriller involving teens, space travel, and a weird blue drink.

Scene from the film Voyagers

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⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

Stars: Colin Farrell, Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp

Writer/Director: Neil Burger

In Theaters

Lord of the Flies meets 2001: A Space Odyssey in this stylish and often suspenseful thriller, as a crew of teenaged astronauts find themselves battling nature, a possible evil interstellar entity, and each other in the deepest reaches of outer space.

Did I mention there are also echoes of Space Camp here? And Mean Girls? And perhaps a dash of High School Confidential?

It’s no criticism to observe that writer/director Neil Burger — who has previously mined other genres to concoct entertaining hybrids like The Upside and The Illusionist — has taken elements of all these films and created a mostly entertaining stew.

It’s the not-too-distant future, and a steadily overheating Earth is dying. For some reason, humans have not yet summoned the will and technology to reverse global warming, but they have perfected interstellar space travel. And so, it appears, the only logical solution for sustaining the human race is to send representatives of homo sapiens into the cosmos to populate a distant planet that scientists have determined could support life.

Because the trip will take more than 80 years, the people who blast off from Earth will not live to see this promised land. Worried that the first generation of pilgrims will go crazy cooped up in a hurtling cylinder for the rest of their lives, scientists create a small army of genetically select test tube babies, raise them to adolescence in a space ship-like environment, and finally blast them off without them ever having spent one moment in the natural world.

Of course, they’re still kids, so there has to be at least one adult along for the ride, and that is a scientist named Richard (Colin Farrell, fervent as ever). But 10 years on, the now-young adults suddenly find themselves without their steadfast guardian, the man who kept them all under control through a canny combination of Ward Cleaver-like wisdom and a daily blue drink that, unbeknownst to them, suppressed their hormones.

You see, in order to prevent overpopulation of the space ship, the plan is to keep the kids from reproducing the old-fashioned way and instead rely on test tube fertilization. What’s more, besides tamping down those amorous urges, as an added bonus the blue drug has also rendered the guys pretty tame, reducing the chances of any testosterone-fueled rivalries and harmful roughhousing.

But with Richard out of the picture, those crazy kids stop taking their hormone-flattening blue drink — and pretty soon the ship goes from the Von Trapp estate to Animal House. Make-out sessions (PG-13 ones, anyway) ramp up in every available corner, the guys start engaging in Fight Club-like wrestling matches — and soon a power struggle arises between the sweet-natured kid everyone elected the new skipper (Ready Player One’s Tye Sheridan) and a dark-eyed sociopath (Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead) who, for uncertain reasons, manages to get half the crew to follow him. Of course, they’re also both sweet on the same beautiful woman: the ship’s physician-in-training Sela (Lily-Rose Depp).

The lights on the space ship do flicker out occasionally, but to his credit Burger doesn’t rely on cheap, lurking-in-the-dark scares. As is so often the case here on terra firma, the most dangerous perils depicted in Voyagers are right there, in bright light, where everyone can see them.

Like the older movies it feeds on, Voyagers aspires to say big things about big issues, but it’s frankly a tough sell to accept social moralizing from a gang of Barbie and Ken clones. Not surprisingly, the film works best when it settles into being a straight-up outer space adventure yarn, briskly paced and lushly envisioned.

Featured image: Lionsgate

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