A little late to this party, but I finally got around to watching Netflix’s “The Adam Project” a couple of weeks ago, and had planned to do this write-up a bit sooner, but the Oscars, WonderCon 2022 and a few other things got in the way.
Anyway, here we are.
*****SPACETIME SPOILERS AHEAD!*****
Crowdpleaser director-for-hire Shawn Levy (“Free Guy”) has directed this time travel tale in the relative isolation of the British Columbia woods with a cast of Marvel movie veterans (Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, Zoe Saldana). The story concerns a bitter, middle-aged man reconnecting with his parents more than anything else. The sci-fi trappings and humor are mere bait to lure in younger viewers, but the connections lost and regained between father, son and mother are really what the movie is all about.
“The Adam Project.”
The story begins in 2022 with 12-year old Adam Reed (Walter Scobell); a bullied, asthmatic boy living with his widowed mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner) in a remote cabin seemingly in the middle of a woodsy nowhere (a great place to hide time-traveling fighter jets).
One night, while his mother attempts to enjoy a date with a colleague from work, Adam (in what feels an homage to “E.T”) investigates a crash in the woods near his home. He encounters a bearded, older version of himself (Ryan Reynolds) who was injured in an attempt to travel back in time from the year 2050 to the year 2018.
Note: Young Walter Scobell gives a spot-on performance, and is very credible as a younger Ryan Reynolds; the two actors often imitate each others’ body language and ticks, resulting in great synergy and believability between them.
The younger Adam is thrilled that his older self grows up to be a handsome fighter jock armed with cool future tech (“it’s not a lightsaber!”) but the older Adam only seems pained and irritated at the sight of his younger self. Younger Adam takes his injured older self to his late father’s (convenient) workshop in the home’s backyard, where he plans on hiding his older self from his enemies while helping him carry out his mission in the past. Trying to amend a few nagging regrets in his past, older Adam meets his mother at a local bar and (in a non-creepy way) reaffirms how much her son really cares about her without spilling too many beans.
Note: Thank goodness the movie didn’t have the widowed Ellie hitting on her adult son–yikes! No one needs to see that in a movie, ever.
Young Adam learns that older Adam was aiming to reconnect with his future wife, Laura Shane (Zoe Saldana), but his futuristic fighter jet was crippled just before entering its artificial wormhole by the sinister forces of future time-travel controller/overlord Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener).
Note: Adam’s mother is absent for a huge chunk of the movie. Granted, she’s a working mother trying to carve out her own social life as well, but other than a few scenes, she’s more or less a mother-in-absentia. Would’ve been nice to have her play a greater role in the action as well.
Sorian has abused the time-travel formula discovered by her former friend/colleague, Adam’s father Louis (Mark Ruffalo). She, along with an army of relentless armored goons and her henchman Christos (Alex Malari Jr.) have followed older Adam back in time, but can’t locate his cloaked fighter ship, which is hidden among a thick neck of trees. Older Adam’s frustration and irritation with his younger self eases up a bit when he realizes he needs the wise-beyond-his-years boy to help him locate the missing Laura in the current year of 2022.
After helping his younger self regain some confidence in dealing with bullies–well, sort of–younger Adam decides to tag along and help his still-recovering older self pilot his high-tech ship to find Laura, whom they locate living on her own in a small cabin in another part of the seemingly infinite woods surrounding the Reed homestead…
Note: I’m sure setting the movie in a remote wilderness saved on the extras’ budget that would’ve been significantly higher if they’d set it in a typical town or suburb. Also convenient how the USAF and SAC-NORAD don’t seem to track these large spacetime ships weaving all over the skies of North America. This town (and universe) seems all-too conveniently underpopulated. I’m guessing the budget was gobbled up largely by the high-demand talent pool of this film, and little else remained for townie extras or the kinds of realistic Defense Department responses such a futuristic aeronautical invasion might really incur. Given the relative isolation of the characters, it’s also likely that COVID-safety was a huge factor in this production, and that’s understandable.
The two Adams find Laura, who shares a long-overdue reunion with her husband that is short-lived by the arrival of Maya and her forces. Realizing that the two Adams need to travel backward to the year 2018 and prevent their father Louis from creating time-travel, Laura decides to hold off Maya and her forces while the two Adams escape back in time. Realizing he is signing his wife’s death warrant, older Adam bids a tearful goodbye to Laura, who promises that they will (somehow) meet again…
Arriving back in 2018, the two Adams eventually meet and reconnect with their dad, Louis. The older Ruffalo is still bitter with his dad “leaving” them, following his accidental death that is due to occur shortly. Louis allies himself with his sons, while also trying to remain a loving father to the 8 year-old version of his son (Isaiah Haegert) currently living in this time, with he and his wife, Ellie.
Meanwhile, older Maya reconnects with her 32-years younger self (via digital de-aging and a body double for Keener), and tries to turn her more idealistic younger self into the bitter ally that she needs to destroy the two Adams and crush their plan to stop her from gaining control of time-travel. Muaaahahahaha…
Note: If Catherine Keener’s “Maya” had a mustache, she’d be twirling it. The character dynamics of this movie are exceedingly simple, much like the characters in director Levy’s “Free Man.” Levy, a producer on the far more complex and cerebral “The Arrival,” seems much more at home with family friendly entertainment.
Eventually, the two Adams convince their father that his business partner Maya is up to no good, and he decides to take his ‘kids’ to work one day… at his university’s large underground particle accelerator where time-travel was born. Hoping to retrieve the hard drive containing the necessary data from the accelerator’s memory core, they are met by the two Mayas, and a battle royale ensues against the backdrop of the damaged accelerator. Blinded by her own ambition, the older Maya shoots and kills her younger self, thus erasing her own future existence. The particle accelerator is now rapidly overloading.
Note: The magnetism of the accelerator seems curiously selective; whisking away some metallic objects, while conveniently ignoring others.
After the particle accelerator is destroyed and the future of 2050 is safe from Maya and rampant time-travel, Louis–his own future uncertain–says a wistful goodbye to his two sons, who, one by one, disappear off-camera, in what appears to be a visual homage to the goodbye scene in 1988’s “Big.”
Note: Almost every key scene in this movie feels borrowed from something else. That’s not a ‘bad’ thing, per se, but audiences would be well-advised to know that “The Adam Project,” buoyed by the star power of Ryan Reynolds, really isn’t anything terribly new or innovative.
The coda sees a twenty-something Adam meeting future-wife Laura during a physics lecture at their university. Second chances…?
Summing It Up.
I must preface my criticism of this movie by saying upfront that this is a family film, not a serious exploration of time-travel and its ramifications. There are far better books and movies on the subject of time-travel (even Spike Lee’s “See You Yesterday” is a lot scrappier), but to argue against the movie on that basis alone feels a bit like down-punching.
Naturally there are plenty of deficits; a very predictable (and at times nonsensical) time-travel story, not to mention a too-remote and consequence-free environment (where’s the USAF investigating all of these giant fighters in North American airspace…?). Jennifer Garner’s mother Ellie is just too conveniently missing for much of the movie; almost to the point where she feels like a parent to one of “The Peanuts” gang. When she talks, I half-expect to hear her speak with a trombone dialect…
The near-future glimpsed in the movie is the kind of neon-lit, Apple-smooth architecture that has long been a cliche in many sci-fi movies. Given the movie’s targeted demographic, I give most of it a pass. Once again, this is only a family flick dressed in sci-fi trappings. None of it should be mistaken for hard sci-fi. It’s like rating a child’s Halloween costume on technical accuracy…it kinda misses the point.
The best moments of the movie are the scenes of older Adam reconnecting with his parents and his younger self. This is the heart and soul of the story, and most of that is propelled by Ryan Reynolds, who does much of the heavy comedic/dramatic lifting. If I had any nits regarding his character of older Adam, it’s that he seems a bit too mean to his younger self–downright abusive at times. However, that is a fault that lies more at the feet of the screenwriters (a gaggle of them, in fact) rather than the actor’s surefooted performance, which often elevates the less-than-inspiring plot machinations, many of which feel cribbed directly from other choice sci-fi movies from the past 40 years. Even the particle accelerator climax feels lifted from “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003).
It’s clear that a good 75% of the movie rests on Ryan Reynolds’ shoulders (despite a more-than-able supporting cast), as was the case with Levy’s “Free Man.” Reynolds is director Shawn Levy’s muse, and deservedly so; the actor’s wit and boundless charm transform “The Adam Project” from a mid-1990s Disney channel TV movie into something respectable enough for a stable of high-end actors to sign on the dotted line.
“The Adam Project” is a safe, innocuous popcorn movie designed for undemanding, family entertainment (despite some salty language and sexual innuendo sprinkled here and there). It’s not trying to rewrite the book on sci-fi/time-travel flicks. Clearly its ambition is nowhere near that great. But sometimes, that’s okay as well. Not every movie has to redefine its genre to be watchable.
Where to Watch/Stay Safe.
“The Adam Project” is available exclusively for streaming on Netflix.com. With the recent invasion of Ukraine, here’s hoping the courageous Ukrainian people will someday see daylight from this nightmare. Wishing the people of Ukraine perseverence, and that this hideous invasion ends sooner than later. Meanwhile, the current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is over 1 million (and over six million worldwide) as of this writing. Please use caution and good judgment when it comes to masking and safe distancing, as many states are now easing prior COVID restrictions due to decreasing numbers of infections.
In these challenging times, be safe and stay strong.