Review: The YA sci-fi thriller ‘Voyagers’ doesn’t really take off

Lily-Rose Depp, Tye Sheridan and Fionn Whitehead star in Neil Burger’s new film “Voyagers” as crew members on an 86-year space flight to populate a new planet that is surprisingly not based on any existing young adult series

What is most surprising about Voyagers, a sci-fi thriller about a group of young people tasked with traveling to and repopulating a new planet, is that it is not based on a series of books for young adults. Writer and director Neil Burger, who was also behind the films “Divergent,” apparently decided to exclude the intellectual property broker and make his own YA statement. Despite that, it is very much borrowed from many other sources, with the nuances “Lord of the Flies”, “Giver”, “Ender’s Game”, “Euphoria” and any number of films about space madness.

With an cast that includes Lily-Rose Depp, Tye Sheridan, Fionn Whitehead, Chante Adams, Archie Madekwe and Quintessa Swindell, a beautiful production design and fast-paced action, this is a very watchable film. He also unfortunately suffers from the same problems as some of his IP brothers – – she’s terribly serious, fails to get the audience to really care about anyone involved and feels like it’s the first book in a series when it’s all said and done.

Located in the near future, the “Travelers” throw vague information about the deteriorating state of the Earth and a plan to send a group of people to another planet to start life anew. Since the journey is 86 years long, it will be the grandchildren of the initial researchers. So they genetically engineer a group of racially diverse, suspiciously attractive geniuses for this first generation and shoot them into space as small children with only Richard Colin Farrell there to raise and supervise and advise them. What could go wrong with this terribly hasty plan?

Well, it certainly doesn’t help that a few years on the trip Whitehead’s Zac and Sheridan’s Christopher discover they’re all drugged to suppress their hormones and keep everyone semi-robotically focused on the mission, instead of gambling with their crew members. When they decide to stop taking the blue drink in which it is hidden, Zac immediately turns into a wild sexual predator with an obsessive focus on Depp Village. Soon everyone stops taking “blue” and after Richard is killed in an accident and no longer has control, the ship turns into a chaotic mess of angry hormones, power struggles and paranoia and the parallels of “Lord of the Flies” really start to take over. There’s even a character similar to Piggy and the moment the unruly faction of the crew starts chanting “Kill!” Oh, the crew also starts to wonder if there’s an alien, as if it wasn’t already enough to chew.

“Voyagers” have high ambitions and big, clichéd questions about purpose, but one of the main problems is that it doesn’t do a great job at establishing its own characters. Part of that is probably because of the “blue color” that makes everyone obedient and emotionless, but even after they stop taking it, the rare characters who get personalities are painted with such wide strokes that there’s nothing to hold on to. Only Zac gets the right transformation, but there’s also no nuance for him. He’s a bad guy and a potential rapist with no noticeable charisma and it’s completely unclear why any part of the crew would choose to follow him instead of the counterfeit Christopher. Also, while the crew is quite racially diverse, 95% of the film is still laser-focused on four white leads.

It’s the kind of premise you can imagine her limited series over time would be better for getting to know and liking at least some of the characters so she has some roles. We should be upset by Zac’s evil devolution and torn by who could be a better leader. We should know more than three character names and worry when people start dying. “Voyagers” is simply a semi-effective thriller with about as much emotional intelligence as its lab-produced, hormone-controlled, isolated children.

“Voyagers,” a Lionsgate theatrical release Friday, the American Film Association rated PG-13 for “violence, strong sexuality, bloody images, sexual assault, and short strong tongue.” Duration: 108 minutes. Two stars out of four.

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MPAA definition PG-13: Parents are strictly warned. Some materials may be unsuitable for children under 13 years of age.

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Follow AP film writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

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