Voyagers opens in the year 2063 with Earth on the brink of destruction due to climate change. After discovering a new planet 86 years away, scientists genetically engineer children, raise them in isolation and send them to this distant world so that their offspring will ultimately colonise it and save mankind.
Ten years into their journey, they start to question their lives onboard the spaceship Humanitas when Christopher (Tye Sheridan) discovers that they are being drugged to suppress their personalities. Mission commander Richard (Colin Farrell) originally tries to squash their concerns, but the teenagers on board begin to reject their docile existence. During this period, Voyagers showcases plenty of potential.
Writer and director Neil Burger, who previously showed a dab hand for overseeing young adult stories and sci-fi films with Divergent, doesn’t get bogged down in the detail of why they are leaving Earth.
Instead, he sets it up in a succinct and expert fashion, as well as teasing the psychological struggles that the teenagers will go on to confront. Voyagers has an impressive young cast that is able to realistically depict these issues, too.
Sheridan, Fionn Whitehead and Lily-Rose Depp become more and more convincing as their characters turn from passive passengers to increasingly intrigued individuals. Throughout, Burger adds to the sci-fi thriller’s sense of foreboding and mystery. Cinematographer Enrique Chediak’s eerie visuals and production designer Scott Chambliss’s sleek but claustrophobic set also enhance this ambience,
while Burger incorporates moments of cinematic flair that suggest Voyagers might actually build to something that is both epic and resonant. It doesn’t take long for the film to falter, though. All of the thematic possibilities Voyagers originally flirted with exploring dissipate away, replaced by a predictable plot that is reminiscent of dozens of stories told before it.
In fact, as it progresses, it begins to play out like a carbon copy of William Golding’s seminal 1954 novel Lord of the Flies. Minus the gravity. Even though it continues to look pretty, there is a complete lack of depth, tension, and surprise. Voyagers merely plods along exactly as you expected, while its haunting aesthetic and premise escape from the film like air leaving a deflating balloon.
At least the performances remain strong, as the cast gallantly try their best to inject some much needed energy and heart into proceedings. But the absence of any characterisation leaves Voyagers feeling hollow. Its final act in particular is especially gruelling to watch. Burger tries to ramp up the action and spectacle, but by this point you will have long given up caring for any of the characters involved, let alone whether they will be able to save humanity from extinction. Voyagers is released in the UK on 2 July.