Director Neil Burger's last movie aimed at the young adult market was the muddled and confusing "Divergent." Thankfully, for "Voyagers," he's following his own script instead of a Veronica Roth novel.
Actually, he has transposed William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" from a remote island to space.
In 2063, the world's resources are so depleted because of global warming and other human excesses that the only way people can survive is by conquering a distant planet. The new world seems to be able to handle a human population, but getting there is the real problem.
It's an 80-year voyage, and the passengers leaving the Earth at this point will never see humanity's new home. If they are lucky, their children or their grandchildren might.
To hedge their bets, the organizers of the expedition have populated the entire vessel with genetically engineered people in their teens and 20s. Some are literal designer babies. A scientist named Richard (Colin Farrell) volunteers to watch over the spaceship until this generation becomes mature enough to handle things on their own.
One of several problems is that the planners of this intergalactic crossing haven't leveled with Richard (or any of the young people on board). Because they are smarter than unenhanced teenagers, they know information has been withheld from them, and they are growing skeptical of Richard and the people left on Earth.
Discovering they have been drugged to keep problematic feelings like lust and rage in check, they skip their meds with expectedly volatile results. The combination of tight spaces, mistrust and budding feelings of romance and homicidal rage could end the human race faster than any alien force.
Burger's first act seems a tad placid for a story with so much potential for conflict and tension. When the young passengers start forming factions, it's faint praise to say that the divisions in "Voyagers" make infinitely more sense than any of the mumbo jumbo in the director's last dystopia. Zac (Fionn Whitehead) discovers the space sedative and gradually turns into a walking id, punching or smooching whoever comes into his path.
It's no wonder that the other voyagers choose the more even-tempered Christopher (Tye Sheridan) as their leader. Both men are attracted to Sela (Lily-Rose Depp), but Christopher is more likely to think about long term consequences. Like people living on the planet now, some of these folks often ignore warnings about planning ahead or avoiding unnecessary grudges.
The stakes in "Voyagers" are about as high as they can get, so it's a shame the movie is just fitfully thrilling. Except for the four leads, most of the passengers are sketchily drawn. This makes it a little harder to get worked up about the parents of humanity's next generation. With the claustrophobia inherent in space travel, the suspense shouldn't let up or take too long to get started.
Whitehead thankfully relishes his "woke" status and has just enough charm to make it easy to believe others might follow Zac even though his impulsive strategies are sure to make the journey pointless.
Burger has shown some flair for science fiction in the past. His "Limitless," which featured Bradley Cooper as a fellow whose brain is also superpowered, worked because it balanced the shaky science with an appropriately tongue-in-cheek tone. Like its subjects, "Voyagers" is a little too earnest for its own good.
80 Cast: Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Colin Farrell, Fionn Whitehead, Chante Adams, Quintessa Swindell, Archie Madekwe, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Viveik Kalra, Madison Hu, Archie Renaux
Director: Neil Burger
Rating: PG-13, for violence, some strong sexuality, bloody images, a sexual assault and brief strong language
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes