There’s something magical about adventure movies from the 1980s–and not just big-name titles like Indiana Jones. Family movies from this time period were filled with wonder and were all coming-of-age stories in one way or another. Many of these films leaned heavily into science-fiction, weather the hero was fighting aliens in space, traveling back in time with a robot that sounded like Pee-Wee Herman, or building a spaceship with friends, there’s a lot of cues that are reminiscent of a time where family movies got dark and deal with having to grow up in a hurry. Netflix’s latest film, The Adam Project, feels like it was plucked from this time and slammed into the present.
The Adam Project stars Ryan Reynolds as Adam, a time traveler from 2050 who ends up in 2022. He runs into the 12-year-old version of himself–played by Walker Scobell–and the duo set out to escape from the bad guys. Said villains are also time travelers with Catherine Keener’s Maya Sorian leading them. She owns the company in charge of all of time travel technology. The film also features a stellar supporting cast which includes Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo as young Adam’s parents, and Zoe Saldana as older Adam’s love interest.
The Adam Project follows the well-familiar format of a child who needs to move forward in their life–whether that’s growing up, moving on from trauma, etc.–and being beckoned by the hero’s call to step up. It’s the Hero’s Journey in a nutshell, a tried and true formula for a great adventure movie. Young Adam is lashing out verbally against his mother and peers–well, bullies to be more precise–in order to deal with his own grieving of his father’s passing a year and a half prior. His call to arms moment is when older Adam (Reynolds) needs his younger self’s help in order to time travel again. And there is nothing more magical as a child than seeing a film where the adults need help from the kid. It’s empowering, and it’s a trope we see again and again in family films. It works incredibly well here and will hit that nostalgic button for so many people.
There is an issue with both the young and older Adam. They don’t necessarily feel like the same character at two different points in their lives, at times. Yes, they still sling out those hilarious one-liners that we typically see in Reynolds movies, but it never feels like they embody the same character. Scobell is great as a kid trying to move past something traumatic and taking it out on all the wrong people, and Reynolds is great as someone literally trying to change his past after losing way too many people he loves, but Reynolds just doesn’t feel like the older version of Scobell.
But as a side note to that, everyone else in this film fits really well. Saldana is great at playing a badass, and she does so here. Her introduction into the movie is incredibly fitting for the character. Ruffalo is a scientist–again, fitting. Garner plays a mother trying to reach her son and run a household, and while she’s played the role of “caring mother trying to make it work” before, this is one of the more memorable films for her. Out of this supporting cast, the only thing that felt out of place was the deaging CG on Keener. It’s so bizarre and is something you cannot look away from.
The film’s use–and overuse–of Pete Townsend’s “Let My Love Open The Door” brings back memories of the end credits of Look Who’s Talking–that movie where a baby is the main character and can talk, but only the audience understand him. Ignoring Hollywood’s current addiction to using this song–typically right before the end credits roll–the musical cues of Townsend wanting a door opened with his emotion bring in a sense of nostalgia for viewers. It’s very much an upbeat song that feels like it could have only been made during the ’80s. And again, brings back fond memories of a movie where Bruce Willis voiced a baby.
The Adam Project leans heavily into another trope that personally pleases me, and that’s introducing a lot of high-concept tech and ideas and never explaining them fully to the audience. While we never see it, it’s apparent that the future is pretty wild. Older Adam compares it to the future of Terminator, but worse. Soldiers disappear into cosmic dust, there’s lightsaber-like weapons, guns have almost no metal in them, and many other concepts are thrown at the audience without any explanation, which some may find annoying. However, we’re seeing this story through the eyes of young Adam, and he is also completely in the dark about everything happening, so this choice makes perfect sense.
However much nostalgia this film hits upon, one of the biggest issues with the movie is it doesn’t follow its own rules–something typical of classic sci-fi adventure movies. Time travel here works with “fixed time,” meaning that a time traveler’s memories don’t change until they get back to their own time and their memories “reconcile.” That’s fine. It’s shaky, but fine. However, the rest of how time travel works is very clunky. We can’t get into too much detail because it hits on very specific plot points that would completely ruin the story. However, it’s safe to say that the rules for time travel and affecting the past and future only work where it is convenient for the story or to grab onto those emotional heartstrings of the viewers.
This same “follow the movie’s rules when convenient” format also happens in a major way during the final scene of the climax. Again, we can’t get in depth as to what rule is broken, but once you see it, you will not be able to stop thinking about it. Consistency within the rules of the movie is the most inconsistent thing. Luckily, this is a sci-fi adventure movie akin to ones from the ’80s, so rules can be bent and broken as long as everyone is entertained.
The Adam Project may be a movie dropped on a streaming service in 2022, but it feels straight from 1986–with much better technology supporting the backdrop. It’s an adventure flick that brings back warm and fuzzy memories of past movie-going experiences, and if you weren’t a child of the decade mentioned over and over again, the movie still speaks to the child inside everyone, letting its love open the by–sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Yes, there’s some odd choices with the rules of time travel and some very rough deaging CG, but The Adam Project is a popcorn movie that will empower kids and is a fun ride for adults. What sets it apart from other films recently released in this genre is that it has a lot of heart. It’s not the most-memorable sci-fi adventure film, but it’s a great break from our current reality.