Film Review – The Adam Project
The Adam Project
The Adam Project (2022) is the kind of sci-fi adventure that is too much of everything and not enough of anything at the same time. Sure, a lot of stuff happens – with plenty of action sequences and quippy punchlines – but none of it resonates. It’s a movie built from other, better movies. The fact it acknowledges this does not make it better. After a while, I found myself struggling to stay focused on what was happening. There is such a bland tone, as if everything was put together in a factory from spare parts. It tries to be a tongue-in-cheek romp while also being a sincere story about families and growing up, but it sadly ends up being neither.
This imbalance is most exemplified with its main star. Ryan Reynolds is at his best when he is insincere, when he is allowed to use his lightning-fast wisecracks as a verbal weapon. This is why he was the perfect choice for Deadpool (2016), as the actor and character existed on the same wavelength. This persona has become so ingrained with Reynolds that it has almost become a detriment. When he is tasked to play things straight and earnest, we aren’t sure if we’re supposed to take it seriously. He plays Adam, a pilot from the year 2050 who jumps back in time to 2022 only to run into the younger version of himself (Walker Scobell). This initial meeting has some fun banter as Scobell plays “Young Adam” with the same smartass jokes as his older counterpart.
One of the intriguing aspects with Big Adam and Young Adam is how trauma, anger, and regret informs much of their behavior. For Young Adam, being an undersized twelve-year-old makes him a prime target for bullies at school. But instead of avoiding confrontation, Young Adam leans into it, hurling insults knowing full well it will only lead to a pounding. For Big Adam, these experiences – as well as a personal, family tragedy – has stayed with him into adulthood. Although Big Adam is now a strapping, muscular fighter pilot, he is filled with remorse and anger, blaming himself for all the bad things that have happened in his life.
Although the dynamic between the Adams works, nearly everything else comes up dramatically short. Writers Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, and Jennifer Flackett – along with director Shawn Levy (reteaming with Reynolds after last year’s Free Guy) – construct a plot heavy narrative where both Adams must jump through time on a dangerous mission. At first, we think it’s to rescue Big Adam’s love interest, Laura (Zoe Saldaña), who has also jumped back from 2050 and has been unable to return home. Things take a dramatic shift, however, as the Adams must then jump further back to 2018 to meet their father, Louis (Mark Ruffalo), whom we’re told maybe the key to restoring time to its proper setting. Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper adventure without an antagonist, and that’s where the evil Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener) comes into play. Sorian – along with her army of faceless, generic henchmen – have been hunting Big Adam through time because…well…it’s never actually fully explained.
There is a lot of expositional dialogue about a dystopian future and super colliders, but none of that really matters. The main draw are the action sequences, and right away we see how the production copies and pastes set pieces from other properties. The opening scenes, involving a lone spacecraft trying to outrun an entire armada of bad guys will automatically call to mind the opening shot of Star Wars (1977). If that weren’t enough, a high-speed chase through a dense forest is eerily similar to the Endor chase from Return of the Jedi (1983). Big Adam even uses a two-sided lightsaber just to hammer down the point. There’s nothing wrong with filmmakers referencing works that have influenced them, but Levy and the rest of the production does nothing but point them out. Simply mentioning Back to the Future (1985) or Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) is not clever of funny.
I found myself being drawn more toward the supporting characters, particularly with Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner. The two bring warmth and heart as the Adam’s parents. Trying to balance work and romance while dealing with a rambunctious kid is tough for anyone, yet Ruffalo and Garner show how parents are willing to go through all the tough times for their kids. Ruffalo adds a surprising level of gravitas to his scenes, culminating in a speech that hits an emotional high due almost entirely to his performance. Garner does not have as much opportunity on screen but makes the most of her limited time. The bar scene, in which Ellie interacts (unknowingly) with Big Adam, is one of the few actual heartfelt moments. It’s too bad Garner is completely forgotten about in the second half.
The Adam Project is crammed with energy but lacks narrative focus. It moves from one scene to another without a natural flow. Despite a committed cast, the film suffers from trying to spin too many plates. Dramatic scenes are not given enough breathing room to leave an impact, and action scenes are not conceived well enough to feel unique or thrilling. The CGI is woefully inadequate, highlighted by a badly de-aged Catherine Keener. Above all else, we are reminded of how derivative this is. It’s as if the film is so devoted to its predecessors that it lacks its own identity. If anything, it does a good job of recommending movies far superior to it.