The Adam Project

★★★★★ | Big but with swearing

The Adam Project

(The Adam Project premieres on Netflix Nordic on March 11th)

I have to admit, when I saw the trailer for The Adam Project, I was less than impressed. Whatever decisions led to making it are all the wrong ones. Settling in for the review, I kept hoping my initial reaction was misled. Maybe, just maybe, Shawn Levy’s latest could be at least entertaining.

It comes then as a bit of a shock that The Adam Project isn’t just entertaining, but one of the best adventure films in years. A rare, self-contained original production that does everything it says on the tin. It’s the kind of movie Amblin produced in the 90s. Back when programmers – standalone movies without pre-planned franchises – were still a thing. A fully-fledged family picture that’s rewarding in different ways depending on the age of the viewer.

Yes, it’s got a fair bit of stupidity. No, the script doesn’t make a lick of sense if you think about it. But it’s an honest, emotionally compelling, and thoroughly exciting film nonetheless. By the time it was over, I wanted to see it again right away.

In the future, there is time travel. How it works is a mystery even after they explain it. This is one of those things it’s best to ignore. The goober does a thing that powers the doohickey.

Adam, a fighter pilot of tomorrow, steals a time-travel jet. He’s scrambling to escape to the past for a mission unsanctioned by his superiors. In his haste, he screws up the temporal coordinates, sending him back three years later than planned. There, he faces a past he chose to leave behind. In this case, his younger self (Walker Scobell), figures things out quickly.

Ryan Reynolds plays the older Adam; himself in all but name. He’s super charming but hardly flexes any thespian muscles. By now, he couldn’t be more typecast unless playing a Smith Corona.

But that’s a little unfair. It’s not that kind of movie. We’re here for breezy fun, which The Adam Project delivers in spades.

Surprisingly, it’s the little moments that impress most. A heartfelt apology that arrives decades too late; years of trauma fighting against the relief of seeing a loved one again. The Adam Project is at its best when it reminds us how fleeting our relationships are against the enormity of time. They’re unexpectedly touching scenes amidst the chaos, each made better by a winning cast.

Mark Ruffalo, one of the best actors of their generation, lends his gravitas to the science hokum. But it’s playing the underlying sadness beyond the brilliance where he really shines. Knowing his theories will rebuild reality, but uncertain if it’s worth the cost.

Sadly, it’s Jennifer Garner, Zoe Saldaña, and Catherine Keener who remain underwritten. They do their best with what they have. Keener particularly finds impressive depths in her tragic villain. I just wish they got more of a meal than this meager offering.

It’s a relief that Scobell is more than up to playing both Ryan Reynolds and the audience surrogate at once. He’s never not charming, and his and Reynolds’ mutual banter clicks instantly.

The Adam Project is also surprising in how unsurprising it is. We’re so conditioned to expect sequels and franchises that we end up looking for potential setups. There are none to be found here. In a decade of attempted throwbacks and nostalgia bait, such classic storytelling feels almost revelatory. You can still make big crowdpleasers without future baggage.

It never outstays its welcome. It tells a coherent, full story that made me tear up more than once. The action doesn’t get out of hand. The restraint to keep things contained makes the material shine. We care about these characters because the film does too. Nobody is lost underneath the hubbub.

This is a great film. It’s not perfect, but it’s precisely what it needs to be. I hope there’s never a sequel. Let’s just let a good thing be. In time, it will feel all the more special because of it.