Sexy teens in space on a real snooze cruise
Pretty young things discover ugly truths about themselves in Voyagers, a sleek, sexy, and strikingly silly intergalactic journey into humanity’s heart of darkness. It’s like a celestial rumspringa, where boys will be boys and girls go wild. Also, ambitious go-getters can tap their inner tyrannical strongman and turn a close-knit community into sheep. In space, apparently, no one can hear you bleat.
★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Neil Burger
Written by: Neil Burger
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Fionn Whitehead, Colin Farrell
Running time: 108 min
By 2063, climate change has finally fried Earth, ravaging mankind with disease and starving them to boot. Luckily, a too-clever group of scientists decide to save civilization by colonizing a newly-discovered virginal planet. The only catch: it will take 86 years to get there. Oops. So they breed 30 text-tube babies from high-quality genetic donors. They also raise the designer toddlers in an enormous spaceship simulator so they can get used to living in cramped quarters, never feeling sunlight, and only looking at each other. With one exception: Michael (Colin Farrell), a sad-faced scientist charged with raising the tykes.
Michael oversees their scientific education, somehow eliding other topics like history, philosophy, psychology, morality, art, literature, religion, and anything else that could give them the faintest insight into human nature. Because science! Anyway, who needs a liberal arts education in space? It’s not like they’re going to repopulate their species or anything. Oh, wait…
When the time comes, Michael insists on going with them on their one-way ticket to ride, knowing it will be as much a suicide mission for him as it is for them. “I want to protect them,” he says to his colleagues, who seem unfazed at throwing 30 unwitting grade-schoolers to their doom but blanch at his request to join them.
How are these kids not worried about their fate? Easy: they’re all secretly doped up on “The Blue,” a galactic Gatorade that eliminates sexual desire, decreases pleasure, and makes everyone more docile. What’s the big deal when you’ve never had free will anyway?
Ten years into their starry-eyed, glassy-eyed, mission, the physically fit, intellectually astute and emotionally neutered bunch perform their crew duties like good little cogs. By the way, their crew duties seem to involve interfacing with a lot of oversized touch-screen monitors and repairing malfunctioning motherboards with shiny gear from their futuristic toolboxes. Also, tending hydroponic plants.
One day, Christopher (Tye Sheridan) discovers that their azure cocktail, a so-called digestive enzyme, is actually a toxin. “They’re drugging us,” he tells Zach (Fionn Whitehead), a smirking alpha male who thrills to his unshackled life once he stops drinking his meds. And, once they both go on a cleanse, suddenly good-girl medical chief Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) becomes the erotic fixation that neither can stop thinking about.
Christopher and Zach start getting uppity with Michael, sassing and backtalking like the tweeners they never got to be. Michael gets concerned about the mild insubordination—and then comes his fatal electrocution during a routine repair to fix the communications equipment. Now, with no way to contact Earth and no adult supervision, the barely-legal brood have to self-regulate. Spoiler-alert: they don’t.
Voyagers offers up a series of tantalizing ideas with very little follow-through. It’s all foreplay and no fornication. If watching it feels frustrating, it’s probably because the whole film is a dry-hump of unfulfilled potential. How confusing would it be to suddenly discover feelings? Or be aroused by the people you’ve considered your surrogate siblings? Don’t expect the film to tell you. When fists start flying, the melee is almost laughingly, thrillingly, primitive, with arms awkwardly akimbo and no technique. That’s a great insight. But then Tye Sheridan lands a perfect jaw-punch and curiosity fades.
Of course Zach becomes the despot, falling back on go-to moves like seizing the food supply and using fear to control his fellow passengers. But why is everyone so gullible? I thought they were better than that. Sure, they’re all eggheads and don’t have any street smarts. But they so quickly and glibly allow animalistic desires to dictate all rational behavior. Also, for a bunch of hedonists, they’re pretty tame. No orgies or rapes for this bunch: their rebellion is to sit on the dinner table and not do the dishes!
Very few characters feel fleshed-out, and only a handful are even referred to by name. How are we to really understand the surging effects of their behavior if we don’t really understand their intraparty dynamics? Zach exploits everyone’s inner fears—creating a straw-man alien as the lurking danger inside the ship—which then leads to people killing each other a bit too easily. And once they discover a hidden cache of weapons, the movie quickly devolves into a big-budget Laser Tag fight. Too bad. Voyagers takes a head-trip premise and turns it into a real snooze cruise.