Review: ‘Voyagers,’ starring Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Fionn Whitehead and Colin Farrell

April 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Lily-Rose Depp and Tye Sheridan in “Voyagers” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Voyagers”

Directed by Neil Burger

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in a spaceship from Earth, the sci-fi drama “Voyagers” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Asians and Latinos) who portray American scientists and crew members involved in exploring a new planet where human beings can possibly live.

Culture Clash: A power struggle erupts among the crew members, and it turns deadly.

Culture Audience: “Voyagers” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching derivative sci-fi movies that borrow heavily from dystopian young-adult novels with “survival of the fittest” themes.

Quintessa Swindell, Reda Elazouar, Fionn Whitehead, Archie Madekwe and Lou Llobel in “Voyagers” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Voyagers” is a disappointing space travel movie that’s the equivalent of being stuck on a pointless road trip with bickering 20-somethings from a bad soap opera. “Voyagers” is not an adventure story about exploring a new planet. The movie is really about a group of young people isolated on a spaceship in a bland ripoff of “Lord of the Flies.” The cast members’ overall serviceable performances can’t quite save “Voyagers” from the movie’s annoying “bait and switch” in its story, which has too many plot holes and not enough originality for it to be a truly enjoyable film.

Written and directed by Neil Burger, “Voyagers” begins with a captioned intro that explains why this space voyage is taking place: “As the Earth grows hotter, and drought and disease ravage the population, scientists look for a new planet—one that can support human life. In 2063, they find it. The human voyage to the planet will take 86 years.” Although the movie never says which government is spearheading this voyage, viewers can assume it’s the United States because all of the people involved have American accents.

Leading this experimental voyage is a scientist named Richard (played by Colin Farrell), who tells people in a meeting that the plan is to have 30 qualified crew members—all who were born and bred to live on a spaceship. These crew members (who were born from artificial insemination) will have a pre-determined number of children and grandchildren during this 86-year journey in outer space. During this time, these voyagers and their descendants are supposed to learn enough about this new planet to return to Earth and bring back this knowledge so that other humans from Earth can possibly start relocating to this new planet.

From the start, there are some major problems with the story. Richard is the only person who’s shown interacting with and educating the children who were selected to be born and and bred for this program. He has been involved in raising them since birth. The movie should have had more scientists and government officials involved in this training. Just because “Voyagers” is a low-budget independent film is no excuse for this lack of credibility. If you can afford Colin Farrell to be in your movie, you can afford to hire some more cast members to portray the people training the children.

The children, who are in the same age group, are first seen as 4-year-olds in a sterile spaceship simulation environment where they are solving puzzles on computers. Richard interacts with them while wearing a hazmat suit. He is kind and patient with the kids, who have deliberately been raised indoors their entire life. The reason for always keeping the children indoors is because if the kids knew what it was like to be outdoors on Earth, it could have negative effects on their mental health while they’re in outer space if they knew what they were missing on Earth.

There’s a scene early in the movie that completely contradicts what happens later in the story. During a teaching session, all of the kids are happy to see Richard when he enters the room. Most of the kids run up to him and hug him, and he hugs them back. But later in the story, when the children begin the voyage when they’re 24 years old, they act as if they’ve never expressed public displays of affection before. It doesn’t ring true at all, but it’s the basis for a huge turning point in the movie.

Richard, who is a bachelor with no kids of his own, has grown attached to these children. He’s so attached that he wants to go with them on this voyage. His supervisor Marianne Sancar (played by Veronica Falcón) is very reluctant to allow it. However, Richard tells her that he really won’t miss living on Earth at all. And the next thing you know, Richard is the only adult over the age of 30 who’s with the crew members who were bred for this voyage. Once Richard and the crew members live on the spaceship, he no longer has to wear a hazmat suit when he’s around them.

Here’s another problematic part of the story: No government would realistically allow a bunch of 24-year-olds who don’t have any life experience outside of a spaceship environment to be on their own to explore a new planet. It’s what would have happened if Richard had not insisted on going on this voyage too. Any scientific exploration like this one would require people who would know what it’s like to live on Earth (indoors and outdoors), to make informed decisions on whether or not a new planet could be inhabitable by human beings whose biology was wired to live on Earth through centuries of evolution. It’s basic science for any scientific exploration to have that comparison point.

The “bait” part of “Voyagers” starts off misleading viewers into thinking that these young people, who’ve been trained specifically to explore this new planet, will get to do this exploring in the movie. But no, here comes the “switch” part of the movie: “Voyagers” has absolutely zero screen time of these so-called explorers doing any exploring. It’s not really spoiler information to reveal this fact about “Voyagers.” It’s a fair warning to viewers that this so-called “new planet” is never seen in the movie. Instead, “Voyagers” is essentially a predictable and often-dull soap opera on a spaceship.

Out of the 30 young people who are the crew members, three are the main focus of the story. It’s telegraphed early on that these three are the main characters, in a scene with the future voyagers as 4-year-olds. They are the only three characters Richard is shown tucking into bed and calling them by their names when he says good night to them.

The three main characters at 24 years old are:

  • Christopher (played by Tye Sheridan), who is even-tempered and analytical.
  • Sela (played by Lily-Rose Depp), who is the group’s assertive and intelligent chief medical officer.
  • Zac (played by Fionn Whitehead), who is the group’s rebellious chief surveillance officer.

And because “Voyagers” is really a soap opera in space, you know what that means: love triangle. There are some other crew members whose personalities are given some notable screen time. They include:

  • Kai (played by Archie Madekwe), a mischief maker who likes breaking the rules.
  • Julie (played by Quintessa Swindell), a flirtatious engineer who has a mutual attraction to Kai.
  • Peter (played by Viveik Kalra), who becomes a rival to Kai for Julie’s affections.
  • Phoebe (played by Chanté Adams), who is the group member most likely to stick to the rules and protocol.
  • Edward (played by Isaac Hempstead Wright), a nerdy control room officer who’s the most “book smart” one in the group.
  • Anda (played by Madison Hu), a level-headed type who is good at negotiating.

All of the crew members except Richard are given a blue liquid called (unimaginatively) The Blue as part of their dining routine. Christopher finds out through some computer hacking that The Blue is really a drug that dulls human senses. It contains a toxin called T56j, which makes people docile and eliminates sexual desire and other sensual urges.

Zac is with Christopher when this information is discovered. Christopher then confronts Richard about it. Richard admits that The Blue is a medication that was given to the crew members to make them less likely to rebel or get distracted.

It’s also explained in the movie that the outer-space program doesn’t want the crew members to conceive children naturally. All conceptions are supposed to be by artificial insemination. It’s been pre-determined how many children and grandchildren each voyager will have, in order to prevent over-population.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t sit too well with Christopher and Zac to find out that their lives have been strictly controlled and manipulated by being given The Blue drug without their knowledge and consent. They decide to stop taking The Blue. And eventually, Christopher and Zac tell some other crew members that The Blue is really a drug to keep them complacent. And, of course, the word gets out to everyone else, and they also stop drinking The Blue.

Remember that scene of the cute and cuddly kids running up to Richard and hugging him? Well, the filmmakers of “Voyagers” want people to forget that scene, because (plot hole alert) they want viewers to think that these kids have now grown up to be people who don’t know what it’s like to express affection. It’s unclear how long the voyagers were taking The Blue, but it doesn’t matter because it’s not a drug that causes amnesia where they would forget childhood memories.

There’s a scene on the spaceship where Christopher sees Richard and Sela talking, and Richard has his hand affectionately on Sela’s shoulder, like a father would for a daughter. Christopher gets a little freaked out and acts as if Richard is one step away from being a sexual predator because Christopher can’t believe that someone is actually touching Sela in this way. When Christopher asks Sela in private if there’s anything inappropriate going on between her and Richard, she denies it, but Christopher doesn’t look completely convinced. It’s all just sloppy and contradictory screenwriting.

Keep in mind, these voyagers are the same people who, when they were children, were jumping up and hugging Richard and letting him tuck them into bed. It’s quite an unrealistic stretch that Christopher, now in his 20s, would suddenly act like he’s never seen Richard touch Sela in a fatherly way before, when Richard is essentially the only father these kids have ever known. By the way, this movie never shows the young voyagers being curious about who their biological parents are, even though Christopher mentions in a conversation that they’ve inherited physical and personality traits from their unknown parents.

After certain characters in “Voyagers” stop taking The Blue, the movie makes a big deal of showing them acting out as they lose their inhibitions. For Zac, that means a touch can’t just be a touch. When he touches Sela’s face affectionately, it quickly turns into fondling her breasts without consent. Zac and Christopher suddenly get the urge to wrestle each other a lot. And there are multiple scenes of the crew members running playfully through hallways, as if they’ve never done it before in their lives.

Through a series of circumstances, the voyagers also learn about violence. And the rest of the movie plays out as predictably as you think it would. Christopher and Zac go from being friends to being bitter enemies. And in true “Lord of the Flies” fashion, people take sides, and there’s a battle over who’s going to be in power.

And what about the mission to explore this new planet? That gets lost in the arguing and fights that take up almost all of the last third of the movie. And there’s some nonsense about a possible alien that’s invaded the ship, which is a fear that Zac uses to manipulate people to do what he wants.

While all of this childish drama is going on, no one seems to be operating the spaceship. It must be on auto-pilot, just like this formulaic, substandard sci-fi flick is on auto-pilot for almost its entire duration. Out of all the actors portraying the young voyagers, Whitehead seems to be the one having the most fun (probably because he’s playing a villain role), and he smirks it up to the hilt.

Unfortunately, the scenes in the movie where the voyagers have been taking The Blue drug require them to talk in almost-robotic monotones. And so, there are long stretches of “Voyagers” that are quite boring because the actors are supposed to be portraying “numb” people. Richard is the only character on the spaceship who maintains a strong sense of lucid humanity, but the power structure ends up changing on the spaceship, so Richard isn’t in the movie as much as some viewers might think he would be.

The cinematography and visual effects for “Voyagers” aren’t terrible but they’re not outstanding either. The movie’s production design for the spaceship isn’t entirely convincing. The interior rooms often just look like a shiny, sterile cafeteria, office building, or lounge space. There aren’t many exterior scenes in the movie because the voyagers spend more time quarreling or goofing off inside than actually working outside.

You know that “Voyagers” is a terrible sci-fi movie because it cares so little about this mission to explore a new planet. Not once do any of the voyagers talk about any hopes or fears that they have about what they might find on this new planet. You’d think that people who were raised to be these pioneering explorers would be curious. But no, not in this movie. “Voyagers,” just like the space mission in the movie, was badly conceived from the start and should have been aborted.

Lionsgate released “Voyagers” in U.S. cinemas on April 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Crisis’ (2021), starring Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer and Evangeline Lilly

March 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Greg Kinnear and Gary Oldman in “Crisis” (Photo courtesy of Quiver Distribution)

“Crisis” (2021)

Directed by Nicholas Jarecki

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Detroit and Montreal, the dramatic film “Crisis” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: The lives of three different Americans—a scientist, a Drug Enforcement Agency undercover officer and a recovering opioid addictall collide when a new “non-addictive” opioid prescription drug called Klaralon is being rushed to market.

Culture Audience: “Crisis” will appeal primarily to people who like to watch formulaic dramas about the “war on drugs” that have some ridiculous plot developments.

Armie Hammer and Evangeline Lilly in “Crisis” (Philippe Bosse/Quiver Distribution)

It seems as if the dramatic thriller “Crisis” (written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki) was made to be a “cautionary tale” about how big pharmaceutical companies are just greedy, corporate drug dealers in the so-called “war on drugs.” However, the movie becomes so enamored with showing enmeshed storylines of the three main characters that it all just becomes a tangled mess that tries to tie up loose ends neatly in a very unrealistic way, in order to have a cliché movie ending. The acting performances are solid, but the movie’s writing and direction are bloated and messy.

The story goes back and forth between the perspectives of three Detroit people, who all end up being connected to each other in some way in the opioid crisis. It’s a crisis that has fueled demand for opioids, whether they’re sold as legal prescriptions or through the illegal drug trade. Much of the story revolves around a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) sting to take down a cartel of Armenian gangsters in Montreal who traffic drugs to and from the U.S. and Canadian border. You can tell already that this movie is more convoluted than it needs to be.

Dr. Tyrone Brower (played by Gary Oldman) is a scientist (presumably in biochemistry, because the movie never says), who teaches at an unnamed university in the Detroit area. This university has had a long-term business relationship with a corporate pharmaceutical company called Northlight, which has hired the university to do research on drugs that Northlight wants approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tyrone is in charge of these research studies, and he prides himself of having high ethical standards.

Tyrone’s latest research study for Northlight is for a painkiller called Klaralon, which is supposed to be the world’s first “non-addictive” painkiller. Of course, there are caveats to using Klaralon. It’s only “non-addictive” if taken in the correct doses. And there’s some cockamamie explanation later in the story that Klaralon won’t become addictive if patients stop taking Klaralon after 30 days.

It’s an example of a poorly thought-out screenplay, because it doesn’t factor in the reality that most patients who are prescribed painkillers need to take the drugs for longer than a month. And no legitimately greedy pharmaceutical company would want to market a drug with such short-term usage. The goal would be to keep people on these drugs as long as possible to make the maximum amount of money from selling these drugs. And there are plenty of plot holes and other illogical missteps in this movie, which ruin any credibility that “Crisis” might have intended to look like a gritty drama that’s supposed to be taken seriously.

The second person in this trio of main characters is Jake Kelly (played by Armie Hammer), a hardened DEA officer who’s undercover in the Canadian city of Montreal. He’s invested a lot of time in a DEA sting to bust an Armenian gang that has been cornering the market with illegal OxyContin sales and is trying to do the same for Fentanyl. The leader of this drug cartel is named (try not to laugh) Mother (played by Guy Nadon), and his right-hand goon is named Guy Broussard (played by Éric Bruneau). “Crisis” writer/director Jarecki portrays Stanley “Stan” Foster, who is Jake’s closest and most-trusted DEA colleague in the sting.

Jake has a personal reason for wanting to bust this drug-dealing cartel: His younger sister Emmie (played by Lily-Rose Depp) is a needle-using opioid addict. During the course of the story, Emmie starts off in rehab but then ends up leaving rehab early to go back to her junkie lifestyle. You can easily predict the scene in the movie where Emmie goes missing, Jake finds her strung-out in a drug house, and he forces her to leave while she has a temper tantrum.

And speaking of drug addicts, the third person whose perspective is shown in “Crisis” is that of single mother Claire Reimann (played by Evangeline Lilly), a recovering opioid addict who’s still struggling with staying clean and sober. Claire is shown in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, where she confesses to the attendees about her urge to use opioids and how it affects how she raises her 16-year-old son David (played by Billy Bryk).

Claire says, “I can’t even sit through a hockey game without even thinking about it. I would like to be a better person for him. And I’m working on that.” David’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie, so it’s implied that he’s an absentee father who has no contact with Claire and David.

The university that Tyrone works for relies heavily on funding from Northlight to keep the school financially afloat. Therefore, Tyrone is under pressure to deliver lab results that will be pleasing to Northlight. However, there’s a problem with the trial studies for Klaralon. The mice that were tested in the experiments died after 10 days of being administered the drug. The trial period was extended to 30 days, and led to the same results. There’s also evidence that Klaralon is more addictive than Fentanyl.

Tyrone finds out this bad news at the worst time, because Northlight is soon going to present the university’s research on Klaralon to the FDA for approval to sell the drug. In good conscience, Tyrone refuses to lie and pretend that Klaralon is safe to sell to the general public. He meets with Northlight executives Dr. Bill Simons (played by Luke Evans) and Dr. Meg Holmes (played by Veronica Ferres), who are portrayed as soulless and money-hungry. Tyrone tells them that the drug is dangerous and not ready for FDA approval, and asks them for more time to do more lab tests.

Not surprisingly, the Northlight executives refuse and even come up with a ludicrous idea to sell Klaralon anyway. Despite all the signs that it’s a deadly drug, the Northlight executives justify this rush to market for Klaralon, by saying that the company won’t be responsible for any deaths if they include a warning that the drug cannot be taken for more than 30 days. Tyrone thinks it’s a terrible idea and isn’t afraid to say so.

After this meeting, Bill tries to entice Tyrone to sign a “modified” lab report with a “corporate donation” of $780,000. Of course, it’s really a bribe to sign a falsified report. Tyrone knows he’s being offered a bribe, but he doesn’t want to alienate Northlight, so he asks for a little more time to look over the agreement.

When Tyrone tells his boss Dean Talbot (played by Greg Kinnear) about this ethical problem, Tyrone is surprised and disappointed when the dean sides with Northlight. Dean Talbot essentially tells Tyrone that if he doesn’t sign off on the report and take the money, Northwell will cancel its contract with the university, and it will ruin the university financially.

Dean Talbot also says that just because some mice died in the lab experiments for Klaralon, that doesn’t mean that people will die from taking Klaralon too. Anyone with basic knowledge of science might be yelling at their screen at this dumb part of the movie. And the dean reminds Tyrone that the university isn’t responsible if people become addicted or die from the drugs that the university researches.

Dean Talbot also strongly hints that Tyrone will be fired if he doesn’t do what he’s told. Tyrone can’t afford to lose this job because his much-younger wife Susan (played by Mia Kirshner) is pregnant with their first child together. He’s also at an age (in his 60s) where it would be difficult to find work somewhere else. And Tyrone loves his job and doesn’t want to leave.

“Crisis” tries to do too much during its nearly two-hour running time. The story goes off the rails when tragedy strikes Claire and she turns into a vigilante. With the help of a private investigator, Claire finds out some information to try to solve a mystery. And then, she starts acting as if she’s a one-woman DEA crime-busting team. She goes back and forth between the U.S. and Canadian border. And a lot of nonsense ensues. It’s just all so ridiculously portrayed in the movie.

There are inevitable shootouts that are also badly handled in the movie. And for a powerful drug cartel led by a guy named Mother, they have a lot less people handling their business than they would in in real life. But that’s because this is a low-budget independent film, so apparently the filmmakers probably didn’t want to hire any more actors because they spent a great deal of their budget hiring an Oscar winner such as Oldman.

Oldman’s Tyrone character is supposed to be the “moral center” of the story. He’s the type of professor who tells his students: “Without us crazies, where would the world be?” As far as his big ethical dilemma about Klaralon, he might as well wear a sign that says, “Whistlebower.” Hammer and Lilly are serviceable in their roles, which don’t make much of an impression in this fairly generic movie.

Michelle Rodriguez has a small role as Jake’s DEA supervisor Mia Garrett, who doesn’t do much but scowl when she hears some of the updates that Jake gives her. Scott Mescudi, also known in real life as rapper Kid Cudi, has a much smaller role as Ben Walker, an investigator for the FDA. These two characters don’t have memorable personalities. Even the chief villain Mother is a banal stereotype of the type of elder “mob boss” that’s been seen in dozens of other crime-related dramas.

“Crisis” tries to be somewhat preachy about the far-reaching effects of the opioid crisis and the “war on drugs.” Claire is supposed to represent the “everyday person” who’s affected by this crisis. But by having her do some outlandish and very unrealistic things in this story, it actually makes her character and this movie less relatable to everyday viewers. Claire also crosses paths with Jake in some of the movie’s most preposterous scenes.

“Crisis” would have been a better movie if it focused only on Tyrone’s storyline and was a drama inspired by 1999’s “The Insider,” the Al Pacino/Russell Crowe movie about a whistleblower in the tobacco industry. “Crisis” could have been an intriguing story, because it’s rare for a dramatic movie to give an in-depth look at any corruption that goes on behind-the-scenes when drugs are being tested for FDA approval. Instead, “Crisis” overstuffs the plot with a run-of-the-mill “let’s take down a drug cartel” storyline that so many other movies have done before and done much better.

Quiver Distribution released “Crisis” in select U.S. cinemas on February 26, 2021, and on digital and VOD on March 5, 2021.