Time travel is an inherently melancholy plot device. Even if someone is just traveling back in time to revisit that awesome surprise birthday party they had when they turned 16, it’s still a little sad. After all, why would they head to the past if they were happy in their present? Why would they run to the future unless they felt their current timeline held no more promise? No matter how many jokes or exciting action setpieces the filmmakers include, that fundamental truth remains present. Even with a time machine.
The Adam Project gets that undeniable reality. As a result, the film’s best moments come when it goes quiet and settles into the small-scale trials and triumphs of existence. Sure, it seems to say, the fate of the world is in the balance here, but there’s other stuff happening here. Honestly, does the apocalypse matter compared to this likely being the last time you see your father, all over again?
The father in question is Louis Reed (Mark Ruffalo), dad to both Young Adam (Walker Scobell) and his time-hopping older self Adult Adam (Ryan Reynolds). Young Adam is a smart-mouthed kid who is too physically small to be anything but the victim on the playground. Sore from the repeated bullying and still too wounded about his father’s death to notice how much he’s hurting his mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner). Then, one night, Adult Adam shows up in the family shed, bleeding and seemingly just as put off by his past self’s attitude as everybody else.
Scobell makes Adam a pain but never an unrealistic one. He’s not horrible; he’s just convincingly middle school. Every snide remark is laced with a bit of suffering. One of The Adam Project’s few emotional missteps is pushing a little too much of the responsibility on him for his turbulent relationship with mom. He’s a kid whose actions scream, “I just need someone to pay attention to me.” Sure, he’s been a bit shitty about it, but he’s not even a teenager yet.
That’s not to lay the responsibility wholly on Garner’s Ellie either. She’s quite clearly just holding on by her fingernails while the one person she cares most about in the world keeps reminding her she’s messing it all up. They both need to give each other a bit more. She needs to slow down and give him a little more of her whole self. He needs to be kinder and acknowledge just how badly she’s hurting too. Unfortunately, Project resolves that just a bit too easily and one-sided.
For the most part, though, it gets its emotional beats to bang on. A bar scene between Reynolds and Garner is especially worthy of note. The movie’s resolution of various time paradoxes is humane without tipping too far into cheesy or consequence-less wish fulfillment. One particular choice came as a thoughtful, if still painful, surprise.
On the action front, however, The Adam Project has decidedly less to offer. Director Shaun Levy, working here with cinematographer Tobias Schliessler, has a decent eye for movement. In terms of framing, clarity, and geography, he’s about on par with his previous action film Free Guy, also a collaboration with Ryan Reynolds. There is less creativity in the action here, though. Even with Guy’s use of familiar IP in the movie’s climax, there was a marked sense of looseness that Project lacks here. One uses a literal lightsaber, and yet it still seems more creative than this offering with its weapon that’s jokingly called out as “just a lightsaber.”
This is perhaps the clearest in the movie’s climax. The final action setpiece is big and filled with several smaller fight sequences and effects shots. It’s loud and chaotic. However, it only seems to be imitating excitement without ever truly generating any. Again, though, it’s saved by the emotion of watching Ruffalo confront his friend and soon-to-be-nemesis Maya (Catherine Keener).
Ultimately one’s enjoyment of The Adam Project will likely depend on their expectations and how flexible they’re willing to be with them. If a viewer wants a science fiction action-adventure movie, they’ll probably come away a bit disappointed. However, if they can accept that it’s a drama about loss wrapped up in a mediocre action film bow, they’re far more likely to enjoy the results.
The Adam Project is streaming on Netflix.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: Netflix.
Tim Steven is a sad tomato, Tim Stevens is three miles of bad road. He’s also a therapist, staff writer and social media manager for The Spool, and a freelance writer with publications like ComicsVerse, Marvel.com, CC Magazine, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. Feel free to find him @UnGajje on Twitter or in a realm of pure imagination.