Let’s first address the fact that we are living in an era where a movie featuring Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, Catherine Keener and Zoe Saldaña is premiering on Netflix. Not just any movie. But what looks like a big budget, loaded-with-CGI-and-action kind of movie. The last film with Ryan Reynolds and Shawn Levy, Free Guy (2021), was delayed for a whole year so that it could be released theatrically. Because that’s the traditional way to watch what’s known as blockbusters. That’s not to say that studios aren’t releasing high-profile IPs exclusively at theatres. However, it seems like Netflix’s Red Notice (2021) has paved the way for said IPs releasing exclusively on streaming platforms. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is up to you to decide.

Directed by Shawn Levy and written by Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin, The Adam Project (2022) follows Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) as he escapes 2050 and Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener). He shoots a wormhole and crashes through it into 2022. That’s where we meet a young Adam Reed (Walker Scobell) who gets bullied at school regularly and lives with his mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner). Adam’s father Louis (Mark Ruffalo) is dead, thereby leaving Ellie to make ends meet, financially and psychologically, and young Adam to make sense of his life. Luckily, young Adam meets older Adam who recruits him on a mission to save the future, which is cool on its own. But it’s doubly cool because this presents an opportunity to the Adams to seek some form of closure.

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Shawn Levy’s contribution to the world of entertainment is diverse. He has directed episodes of Animorphs (1998-1999), The Famous Jett Jackson (1998-2003), and of course, Stranger Things (2016-ongoing). He has directed Big Fat Liar (2002), The Pink Panther (2006), Date Night (2010), Real Steel (2011), and all three of the Night at the Museum movies. On top of that, he has acted and produced films and shows as well. You can say that he has his hand on the pulse of the constantly evolving landscape of cinema and he has a decent idea of how to evoke feelings through the moving picture. However, The Adam Project is evidence that Levy’s direction has become a case of diminishing returns, cinematically and emotionally. How much of that is Levy’s fault and how much of it is a result of the current trends in terms of balancing comedy, action, and drama demands a broader conversation.

The Adam Project

The writing and direction in The Adam Project really peaks when it’s being sincere. The young Adam is coping with the loss of his father, dealing with bullies, and feeling the repercussions of distancing the only person who cares about him i.e. his mother. The older Adam is dealing with environmental decay, the loss of his fiancé (Zoe Saldaña), he realises what he has lost by distancing his mother, and he misses his father. And the writers offer them opportunities to teach each other something and heal (which technically makes it self-healing). In those moments, Levy expertly slows things down and lets Reynolds and Scobell act their hearts out. The way they look past their self hate feels genuine and makes you wish that you could do the same with your younger self. The scenes with the two Adams and their mother, father, and fiancé are equally moving. Especially the stuff with the parents as they discuss the time they’ve lost misinterpreting sentiments or not processing them or reciprocating them properly.

But then the jokes come in.

Jokes are good. Jokes are fine. There’s nothing wrong with jokes. But it shouldn’t undercut an emotional beat. This style of integrating “humour” into dramatic scenes has been popularised by the recent spate of Marvel movies and especially Deadpool (2016). So much so that every single Ryan Reynolds film and character is starting to look and sound like variants of Wade Wilson. It is impossible to know why this happens, how it happens, and whether this is some kind of industry mandate or not. For now, we can only guess that the writers are simply afraid that if they let a moment where the characters are really connecting go on for too long, they’re going to lose the audience’s attention. Or if the audience gets too overwhelmed, they’re going to leave the movie thinking about its poignancy and not the glitzy action scenes. Hence, jokes. And not good jokes. But with lines that point to the fact that they’re joking or pointing out a thing that’s visibly happening in a “funny” way.

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Now, if we are to assume that the team behind The Adam Project only wants us to focus on the visuals and action instead of the “feels”, well, they don’t do a solid job of that either. Because if you are compromising your movie’s heart for shots of action-ridden adrenaline, then it has to be the best shot of action-ridden adrenaline. The VFX work is incredible. The ships and the set extensions around the Reed household look seamless. The de-aged Catherine Keener is questionable. The costume work on the futuristic soldiers is commendable. There’s some brilliant use of practical effects in the scene where the Adams go up to the jet and chase through the forest. The stunt work is amazing. It would’ve been better if the actors did more of the fight sequences. Then the editing would’ve been smoother and the scenes wouldn’t have been an incoherent mess. And who decided to put dull grey, dull brown, and metal grey-clothed characters in a grey environment for the final act? Isn’t that visual design 101 to put contrasting elements in a scene so that they’re easily discernible?

As mentioned before, nowadays it seems like Ryan Reynolds is playing Deadpool/Wade Wilson in every movie. It does beg the question that how much of the writing of his characters are influenced by his casting in that role and how much of it is just Reynolds riffing and improvising. Will we ever know the answer to that? No, absolutely not. And here’s why it is annoying. Reynolds is a hugely talented actor. He is capable of essaying subtlety through the flitting motion of his eyes. You can notice that in his first conversation with Scobell, who by the way is doing a good impression of a young Ryan Reynolds here. Reynolds’s vocal inflections and command over his body language is immaculate. His final scene with Mark Ruffalo, who is warm and charming as usual, is a great example of that. But it’s all buried underneath heaps of unfunny “comedy”. Jennifer Garner is fantastic. The movie should’ve featured more of her. The same can be said about Keener and Saldaña. They are terrific. There’s just not a lot of them in The Adam Project’s 106-minute run time.

After tallying up the pros and cons, it’s safe to say that The Adam Project is a watchable film. Shawn Levy and the movie’s team of writers pepper the narrative with enough tear-jerking moments to invest you emotionally. The action scenes are professionally crafted. Although it involves time travel, the science of this sci-fi film isn’t very complicated. So, you don’t have to think about it too much to engage with the story. The pacing is breezy. Ryan Reynolds is clearly the biggest draw here. Despite all the criticisms, we have to admit that he is a brand now. If you are a fan of it, you are going to love everything he does. If you are not, you won’t. Everyone around Reynolds is competent and hence they aptly pull their weight. And if all that motivates you to watch The Adam Project, please do.

The Adam Project will stream on Netflix from March 11, 2022


The Adam Project Links: IMDb, Netflix
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Walker Scobell, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, Zoe Saldana, Catherine Keener, Lucie Guest

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