“VOYAGERS” MOVIE REVIEW

Apart from its intriguing premise, the hopelessly predictable, live-action, sci-fi saga “Voyagers” (*1/2 OUT OF ****) has little else to distinguish it. First, climate change has ravaged the planet, and the Earth is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Man is running out of time as well as resources! Second, the nearest planet fit for human habitation requires an 86-year voyage! Incredibly, serious minds decide to launch children into space and educate them so they can maintain their spacecraft during this voyage of a lifetime.

Later, when they have matured enough, they will reproduce and then train their offspring! Presumably, these first-generation space travelers will apprise the second generation, their sons and daughters, about the dire necessity for colonizing the new planet. Undoubtedly, teens will applaud the confidence mankind has entrusted them with for such a critical mission.

Nevertheless, just as parents dread the thought of teens sneaking out for a spin in the family sedan, space agency administrators are just as paranoid about their decision to let everything ride on these teenagers. Ultimately, a space program veteran volunteers to chaperone the thirty young adults dispatched for the stars. Inevitably, you can imagine the deceptive measures which man has taken to keep those young minds focused on the mission.

Not only does “Voyagers” writer & director Neil Burger know something about YA movies, but he also helmed “Divergent” (2014) and was executive producer on both sequels “Insurgent” (2015) and “Allegiant” (2016), a futuristic film franchise based on Veronica Roth’s bestselling novels.

“Voyagers” is set in 2063. Since the trip is an estimated 86-year journey, scientists have assembled a crew from scratch. Thirty test-tube babies–the bioengineered seed of MIT scientists and Nobel laureates–have been incubated in a remote laboratory under close medical scrutiny. These infants are confined for the duration of their stay.

They never see either the sun or the moon. They aren’t taken for rides in strollers to experience the seasons. Psychologists fear any exposure to either the world or humanity could jeopardize the mission. Similarly, they are concerned about the mission commander, Richard (Colin Farrell of “Miami Vice”), the accomplished scientist who mentored these gifted youngsters.

He is as close as they will ever come to having a parent. He says he can wave goodbye to Earth with few regrets. Indeed, Richard realizes he is taking a one-way trip, but the prospect doesn’t frighten him. Nevertheless, he finds himself at a disadvantage when his young cadets bug him with nuisance questions about the mission.

When they turn twenty, they approach him with pesky inquiries that make Richard furrow his brow in dread. Literally, these cadets fit British philosopher John Locke’s essay about humans at birth being blank slates called tabula rasa. They know nothing more than what their particular culture has programmed into them.

Meantime, inquisitive Chris (Tye Sheridan of “Ready Player One”) and his best buddy Zac (Fionn Whitehead of “Dunkirk”) discover that their popular beverage, nicknamed “The Blue,” which everybody guzzles like tap water, is laced with mysterious chemicals. Indeed, Mission Control has them on a regimen of anti-depressants to minimize any personality disorders.

Chris and Zac boycott ‘the Blue,’ and they experience a radical change. They compete with greater vigor when wrestling since they can muster more strength and tenacity. Eventually, the other cadets follow their example. Before long, Richard finds himself at odds with Chris over this thorny issue. When the ship’s communications system breaks down, Richard orders Chris to assist him with a spacewalk to repair the damage.

Initially, Zac was assigned to help him, but Richard punishes Zac for groping their medical officer, Sela (Lily-Rose Depp of “Tusk”), without her consent. Afterward, Richard promises Chris to contact Mission Control about the chemicals in their water supply. Unfortunately, Richard dies from an apparent heart attack. Although the cadets elected Chris as their new leader, they shirk their duties.

The friendly rivalry between Chris and Zac reaches a breaking point, and they become bitter enemies. Pandemonium ensues, and the crew turn against each other. Despite Chris’s reminder that survival is their first priority, Zac foments an uprising, and his faction raids the weapons arsenal.

Sadly, like a pupil plagiarizing a book report on English author William Golding’s Nobel Prize-winning novel “Lord of the Flies,” Burger has simply swapped out the island setting of Golding’s classic with a spaceship. Sadly, studio executives who never read Golding’s book but were eager to corner the market signed onto Burger’s premise.

Presumably, Burger didn’t cite Golding because “Voyagers” added women to the narrative and outer space served as the setting. Mind you, “Voyagers” does a competent job of setting up the situation and getting through the sticky preliminaries. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” production designer Scott Chambliss and Burger have created a sleek, sterile, state-of-the-art spacecraft, but neither the vessel’s name nor numerical designation is ever revealed. White is the dominant color.

Considering the width of its cramped corridors, the spacecraft seems rather claustrophobic. Lugging oversized space equipment along those passageways would pose a challenge. Two people cannot walk side by side without brushing shoulders. The cadets wind up pushing a plethora of buttons on sophisticated consoles and ogle monitors galore, so “Voyagers” never lets you forget it is tech savvy.

“Voyagers” might have fared better as a goofy sex comedy. Imagine something like “Porky’s” (1981) mashed up with “Spaceballs” (1987)! Up to a point, “Voyagers” floats several provocative ideas. Alas, the filmmakers don’t follow through with anything genuinely original. Not only can you guess the identity of their new leader after Richard’s demise, but also the inevitable ‘happily ever after’ outcome occurs once Zac’s rebellion is quashed.

After order has been restored but before the end credits roll, you won’t be surprised at who is elected to replace Chris. Comparably, “Voyagers” isn’t as entertaining as either “Passengers” (2016) or “Breach” (2020), no great shakes themselves, when it comes to depicting mankind’s efforts to migrate elsewhere in the universe.

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