Neil Burger's Voyagers is essentially Lord of the Flies in space. That idea isn't half bad as like an island, a spaceship is a set amount of space that traps its young players. And there are other good ideas in the film, however too often this film relies on generic plot beats and ditches a more thoughtful approach to pander to its teen audience.
The mission at the center of the film is to save the human race. Earth is becoming uninhabitable and so a large ship is sent to a planet that could sustain life. The trouble is that it takes 86 years to get there. Scientists artificially fertilize a group of children to live on the ship, have kids and their grandkids will be the ones to colonize the new planet. When you stop to think that through, it's a pretty crap deal for the initial group of travelers. They will spend their whole lives on the ship and most likely won't see the result of their sacrifice. Richard (Colin Farrell) has helped raise the kids and decides to join them on the voyage to watch after them as the ship's captain.
The premise holds plenty of interesting ideas within it. However, Burger is far more concerned with teen drama and almost forgets about the plot to preserve humanity once the inciting incident happens. That moment comes when two teens, the blandly heroic Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and the blandly evil Zac (Fionn Whitehead), find out that the "blue" they have been drinking every day for their entire lives is a drug to control their urges and hormones. They decide to stop drinking "blue" and things go haywire quick. This is especially true after an accident that happens during a repair mission to fix the communications tower with Earth.
What happens next is a typical power struggle between the archetypal characters Christopher and Zac. They aren't written as complex individuals and so the film has little nuance as it plays out. Richard is an interesting character dispensed with too quickly. Sala (Lily-Rose Depp) is a potentially fascinating character but is too often reduced to an object of desire that Zac lusts after. The teenagers occasionally acknowledge their predicament and whether or not to fulfill the mission even though they can't see the results. I wish the film dug deeper on this idea instead of treating the majority of the teens as mindless followers.
Voyagers does succeed in a few spots. The production design is visually striking, trapping the characters in long, white, and sterile hallways that resemble a maze that mice are put in. The cinematography often uses these long hallways in kinetic ways, zooming around when the action kicks off. So many of the things the film sets up are interesting but get abandoned in the film's second half in favor of monologues and action scenes. The cringy ending doesn't offer much either, favoring a clean and tidy ending instead of a more thoughtful reality.
Overall, the performances are serviceable. Sheridan is not a very dynamic actor and doesn't bring a lot here. Depp does bring conviction and nuance to Sala but the film's writing gives her little to do. Whitehead has the juiciest role and he knows it, chewing the scenery at every chance.
I wish Burger had dropped the lame editing choices to show the growing hormones among the teens. Another pass at the screenplay may have explored the interesting ideas here with more intention. As it stands, Voyagers is entertaining enough to never make me bored when watching it but one can't help to wish for a better film.