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Adam Project, The

Entry updated 31 October 2022. Tagged: Film.

US film (2022). Skydance Media, Maximum Effort, 21 Laps Entertainment. Directed by Shawn Levy. Written by Jonathan Tropper, T S Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin. Cast includes Jennifer Garner, Catherine Keener, Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana and Walker Scobell. 106 minutes. Colour.

Adam Reed (Reynolds) crashlands in the year 2022, his attempt at Time Travel thrown off-course by injury en route. He enlists the help of his twelve-year-old self (Scobell) in repairing his vehicle and jumping back further to 2018, where their Scientist father Louis (Ruffalo) has recently stumbled upon the formulae and Technology that will make time travel possible. Louis, however, refuses to meddle in his own fate, despite the obvious implication (a prized wristwatch, worn as an heirloom) that he will not live to see child-Adam's twelfth birthday. Elder-Adam pleads that a Changewar is already underway, and that the reality they in are is already the result of interference by Louis' business partner Maya Sorian (Keener), who will soon have Louis killed in order to seize control of his Invention and send the world on a dark timeline of Disaster and Climate Change by the year 2050. Louis and the Adams team up to thwart Sorian's scheme and destroy the time machine, defeating her with their knowledge of, among other things, magnets.

Originally written as a spec script, Our Name is Adam, by T S Nowlin in 2012, the story was first picked up as a Tom Cruise project by Paramount Pictures, presumably in the midst of that star's interest in such properties as Oblivion (2013) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014). It languished for several years unmade, accreting several rewrites until its final incarnation at Netflix, credited to Jonathan Tropper, now leavened with the profane and witty wisecracks common to Ryan Reynolds vehicles such as Deadpool (2016) and Free Guy (2021). Here, they serve an additional purpose in synching the characters of the elder and younger Adams, with many of the best lines assigned to the younger version, thereby revealing them as kindred personalities. But the relatively simple changewar plot of The Adam Project thinly disguises a much deeper and more heartfelt investigation of family ties, grief and generational friction, to which the genre elements play second fiddle. The titular project is the name of Louis's great invention, named for his son but in elder-Adam's eyes actually an interest that occupied him to a neglectful degree. Child-Adam is a resentful pre-teen, tormenting his widowed mother Ellie (Garner), who struggles to hide her own grief because she fears it will damage him. Elder-Adam is himself bereaved, having believed his wife Laura (Saldana) to have been murdered by Sorian – in fact, she has been marooned in the past for four years, and sacrifices herself a second time to allow the Adams to escape to 2018, in the full and melancholy expectation that if their mission is a success, they will wipe out the timeline in which she and Adam will ever meet.

Saldana and Garner are both somewhat under-written in what is very much a boys' film, serving ultimately as important for their absence rather than their presence. A similar hiatus is one of the film's better moments of plotting, in which Adam is revealed to have deduced Sorian's actions by observing a time-plane "returning" to 2050 without having left – the only evidence he has that his timeline has already been compromised. Whereas Back to the Future (1985) sent a child back in time to bring his parents together, elder-Adam is confronted by truths that he has suppressed – as child-Adam admonishes him, he resents his father "because he died", and has carefully forgotten the many incidents, still fresh in child-Adam's mind, that demonstrated Louis's love for him. In a particularly moving scene, the grown-up Adam tries to apologize to his own mother for his child-self's lack of sympathy towards her, but is hampered by the requirements of time-traveller ethics not to reveal who he really is. The true drama, however, remains in the investigation of the distances that can grow or recede between fathers and sons, a mirror of the mother/daughter tensions in the same year's Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). In a moment that handily compresses storytelling but also encapsulates parental love, Louis instinctively realizes that the two young men in his lecture hall are future incarnations of his own son, without needing to be told. And with the world saved, and the likelihood that a resetting of timelines will yank the two travellers back to the "fixed time" in which each belongs, they briefly and heart-stoppingly play a game of catch with their father, each waiting for the other to disappear. [JonC]


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