Many directors have tried to copy the Steven Spielberg 80’s style in their films, and Shawn Levy has perhaps been the most successful at capturing that nostalgic, sentimental style of directing.
‘The Adam Project’ easily could have been made in 1982 – a fighter pilot travels back in time to fix a bad future and meets his younger self.
It’s a simple plot hook, and Ryan Reynolds sells the wisecracking buccaneering space hero archetype well.
Reynolds and Levy combined to make ‘Free Guy’ a surprise hit last year, and the pair have captured a good chunk of the fun here.
The main issue with ‘The Adam Project’ is the script; the story is formulaic and derivative of pretty much any science fiction film made since the 1960s, yet if you go digging, there’s a strong and emotional family drama in there.
In this expensive effects-driven blockbuster, the best parts aren’t the whizz-bang explosions and Spielbergian-style cinematography, it’s the strong emotional centre.
There’s a 15-minute stretch early on in the film that explores the concept of meeting your parent at a difficult stage of their life and trying to warn the future generations about what’s to come, and when the film plays on that theme, the film is at its strongest.
The film is unashamedly Spielbergian or Zemeckis in its pretensions, and we argue when you set out to make an 80's-inspired sci-fi flick, there are worse directors to rip off.
There is a certain sense of pathos and it inspires a thought in viewers – “what if I met my parents when they were younger?”
Casting a net
Ryan Reynolds’ trademark brand of smarmy pop-culture laden humour works well here, but there is a genuine pathos to his character, and it’s a testament to his skill as an actor that he can sell the tough guy action scenes, the tender character-driven moments and of course, the one-liners.
The scene where Reynolds meets his mother and offers some sage advice about what to expect is one of the film's better moments, and you wish the film ran with the concept a bit more.
Then you snap out of it and realise that ‘Back To The Future’ did that exact same concept perfectly in 1985.
It’s almost a shame when the CGI spaceships and green screen effects show up.
The action scenes have a decent sense of geography to them, which is a posh way of saying you can tell where characters exist in relation to each other in a scene.
The film is at the bare minimum, competently made, and we’re not expecting that quote to appear on a poster.
Walker Scobell is well-cast as the younger version of the Reynolds character, and the pair have a fun chemistry together.
Scobell has great comedic timing for a young actor, and is totally believable as a younger version of Ryan Reynolds.
The supporting cast is strong, with Zoe Saldana making a brief, but memorable impact, Mark Ruffalo bringing gravitas as the tenured scientist type and Catherine Keener continuing to show audiences why she’s the best at playing icy, manipulative characters.
Jennifer Garner has settled into a comfort zone of playing over-worked, stressed mothers in her films, and does a decent job with the thankless material.
Ruffalo doesn't make his entrance until late into the second act, but Ruffalo confirms that he's an old-school actor in the best way; he's there to give you the mumbo-jumbo sci-fi dialogue but make it sound like Mark Ruffalo.
Reynolds and Ruffalo have good chemistry together, and fans of both actors will get a lot of bang for their buck; there's a fun back-and-forth dynamic between the pair, with Reynolds serving as the straight-talking, all business action hero and Ruffalo serving as the aloof, yet intelligent professor.
Stranger Than Fiction
Levy serves as a producer and director on Netflix mega-hit ‘Stranger Things’ and considering how that show now serves as the design template for practically every effects-driven show or film since 2016, it makes sense the film has a lot of ‘Stranger Things’ DNA.
You have the expensive soundtrack of classic rock hits, a tender, synth-driven score for quieter scenes, cinematography that alternates between icy cold to warm and tender depending on the scene, and the pacing of quiet dialogue scene, loud action scene.
Shawn Levy can be classed as a McDonald’s director in that you know exactly what you're getting.
Levy is unapologetic in wanting to make movies for the masses, and he certainly does a decent job here of making a film that can appeal to the whole family.
As last year’s ‘Free Guy’ or his ‘Night At The Museum’ films have proven, he likes to make films that remind viewers of watching ‘The Goonies’ or ‘ET’ on TV when they were 10 years old.
Levy isn’t trying to be Andrei Tarkovsky or Denis Villeneuve, he knows his lane is inoffensive and relatively charming action films aimed at families, and he plays to his strengths here.
Indeed, between this and 'Free Guy', Ryan Reynolds has perhaps found the perfect director in Shawn Levy.
Levy understands Reynolds is at his best when he's being a cheeky smart-arse, but also appreciates that the audience likes when he gets into tough-guy action mode.
Reynolds is the perfect actor for the Levy style of directing: the Canadian director isn’t afraid to let the characters sit in the moment and let the viewers breathe before moving on to the next big set-piece.
The script, as stated, is formulaic as it comes, and it’s a shame there’s a more substantial and thought-provoking sci-fi film buried under mounds of quippy one-liners.
With that said, audiences who want to watch ‘The Adam Project’ want something that is inoffensive and not too taxing on a Friday night, and this film fits the bill well.
The film knows exactly what its target audience is, and it isn’t striving to be mentioned in the same conversation as ‘Solaris’ or ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.'
There is a stronger and more substantial film in there somewhere, but the film we have is fairly solid.