Voyagers Synopsis: With the future of the human race at stake, a group of young men and women embark on an expedition to colonize a distant planet. But when they uncover disturbing secrets about the mission, they defy their training and begin to explore their most primitive natures.
Outside of celebrated auteurs like Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee, directors’ careers often undertake a roller coaster journey filled with soaring highs and lows (it’s practically impossible to work in the film industry unscathed by criticism or studio mandates). Neil Burger stands as a strong example of this dynamic, building his profile with indie darlings (The Illusionist and Interview with the Assasin) before striking big with the high-concept sci-fi hit Limitless. His success led him to a mainstream transition, a journey that’s generated a few profitable yet middlingly received outings along the way (Divergent and The Upside).
Now, Burger is re-taking control with his latest directorial/writing vehicle Voyagers. I am a sucker for inventive and meaningful sci-fi efforts, with Voyagers taking an interesting dive into unbridled adolescents fresh off the suppressive control of a mysterious chemical. While Voyagers certainly possesses the bones of a sturdy offering, it’s a shame that Burger’s effort leaves most of the film’s potential untapped.
To Burger’s credit, this is easily his most lively effort since Limitless nearly a decade ago. Burger’s astute direction defines a cloyingly claustrophobic sense of place, allowing each chromatic lab and swerving hallway to come to life in their own distorted ways. The director also reprises his usage of kinetic montages, with blips of untamed imagery doing a skillful job replicating the character’s newfound euphoria. It’s a joy to see Burger working in his element viscerally. When he’s able to let loose, Burger finds insightful ways to relay the character’s emotional flurry.
With his first feature script in over a decade, Burger certainly has a pulse on worthwhile conceits. His sci-fi/Lord of Flies hybrid views insular conflicts under a microscope. Whether it’s humanity’s struggle between selflessness and selfishness, the awakening of adolescent emotions, or the duality of good and evil, Burger makes several admirable attempts to dress up his familiar storyline.
I love what Voyagers tries to say, but its neutered delivery feels oddly akin to the chemically-castrated characters. Burger seems to be fighting an uphill battle with studio mandates, as his film often opts towards simplistic, teeny-bopper entertainment over the more weighty conceits (the film feels like it’s in a frenetic rush towards the chaotic third act, sprinting past quieter frames that are sorely lacking). For a film about the release of controlled emotions, Voyagers lands with an oddly buttoned-up delivery. The film’s PG-13 rating prevents the material from traversing down the darkly untamed avenues, with Voyagers including depictions of violence and sex that reak of empty posturing.
Voyagers proudly wears its influences on its sleeve, a decision that leads to those inspirations dominating anything the material is trying to say. Burger’s script desperately lacks presence in a character-front. The talented young ensemble is stuck playing thankless ciphers, with their characters shifting to the whims of the storyline rather than possessing dimension or agency on their own accord (Fionn Whitehead’s antagonistic role is cartoonishly empty). The addition of Colin Farrell as a paternal guide does present some promise, but his short-lived role makes little impact before the chaotic action takes center stage. I don’t think this film will register as anything more than a Lord of Flies ripoff for most audiences.
Heady science-fiction is right up my alley, but Voyagers compromises too much on what makes the material inherently interesting.
Voyagers opens in theaters nationwide on April 9th.
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