Warning: Contains spoilers for The Adam Project
When you do an online search for the “best live-action kid's movies,” the majority of articles that come up are lists of films from the 1980s and early to mid-90s. Have film studios lost their way in creating non-animated content marketed towards kids? Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is in theaters now. The latest Fantastic Beasts film will also drop in 2022, but I would argue that that franchise is less geared towards kids, and more towards folks (like myself) who grew up reading and watching the Harry Potter series and just want the ride to never end. What is it about films like the original Jumanji, The Sandlot, or The Goonies, that makes me hold them in such high regard? One answer may be because back then (when I first watched those films), I was not much older than the film's main characters.
In The Adam Project, Walker Scobell plays 12-year-old Adam Reed, he’s a cute kid who’s plenty precocious and a little mouthy at times. It gets him into trouble: he is frequently beaten up at school. (He also uses an inhaler for treating asthma, just like another 80s kid film character I know and love). He and his mom live in Washington state, in a house that backs up onto a forest that pretty much looks like the woods of Endor. Maybe this movie is catering to my age bracket after all. Scobell definitely has a bit of a young Jack Dylan Grazer thing going on with his speech and mannerisms. Enough so, that I had to check IMDB to make sure I hadn’t seen him in something before. I hadn’t.
The film immediately starts with a revelation that most kids would be completely psyched to hear: time travel is real. Ryan Reynolds’ character, older Adam Reed, steals a spaceship and is making his escape, ignoring the voice of Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener) on his intercom, while holding his hand over a recent gunshot wound. He’s in the future! But not for long. We watch him evade capture and fly through a wormhole and into the past. The film has a really fun soundtrack that is definitely more akin to Guardians of the Galaxy than popular music hits of today. It also has several silly yet kinda awesome Star Wars-like weapons (think Prequel style).
Young Adam is left home with his dog while his mom is out on a date with a coworker. Both characters have recently lost the patriarch of the family, Louis Reed, played by Mark Ruffalo, and they are still trying to get over it. In The Adam Project, we get the loveliest mom, Ellie Reed, played by Jennifer Garner. Garner has the awesome mom character on lock at this point in her career. Ruffalo is channeling somewhere between Bruce Banner and his 13 Going on 30 character, Matt Flamhaff; he’s the smart scientist, but also disheveled yet endearing.
When Young Adam (Scobell) follows his dog, Hawking, out into the woods after hearing a loud crash, he eventually checks out his dad’s old shed, where he meets the injured yet still sassy Big Adam (Reynolds). Hawking is already getting cozy, resting his head on Big Adam's lap. Young Adam is suspect of how Big Adam was able to get into his dad's shed, to begin with. But after a few shared stories, mannerisms, and scars, it is clear that Reynolds is Adam Reed from the future.
Now, once Big Adam (Reynolds) gets to the pharmacy to get himself patched up, he reveals that he never meant to come to present-day 2022, he was aiming for 2018. The precocious Young Adam (Scobell) uses his powers of asking several annoying questions to eventually get to the truth of the matter: Big Adam is trying to find out what happened to his wife Laura. In the future, Big Adam is told his wife died upon re-entry from a time-traveling mission, but he doesn’t buy it. She was too smart and too good at it to make that kind of mistake. Big Adam needs to repair his damaged ship and get back to 2018 to find out what happened. But he needs Young Adam’s help.
Once they get to 2018, Adam and Adam are ambushed by military(?) forces led by Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener) who are all looking to take Big Adam back to the future. (That’s right, I said it.) Just when you think all hope is lost, Laura shows up, played by a kickass Zoe Saldana (definitely think Gamora-style). There are big guns involved no doubt. The film steals some stunts right out of Return of the Jedi. Levy is using this Redwood forest setting for a reason.
Journeying back to 2018 reveals a bigger mission to stop Maya Sorian and the origin of time travel itself, which was unintentionally discovered by brilliant dad scientist, Louis (Mark Ruffalo). This gives both Adams the opportunity to see their (now deceased) dad again. It is an open can of worms indeed. Weirder still is seeing Keener’s character Maya talk to a de-aged version of her “past self.” It isn’t done all that well, and it is both disconcerting and distracting. C'est la vie. Maya went back in time, ignoring one of the many rules that Louis keeps bringing up, and told her younger self about the future. This allowed her to do all kinds of shady things like buy stocks. STOCKS! But I digress, the film attempts to make the younger Maya seem more innocent but we know that she grows up to be the big baddie of the film. Louis on the other hand, doesn’t know that his theory for time travel will actually turn out to be practical until the Adams tell him because he dies before then. One missed opportunity (I think) was to determine if Maya had anything to do with Louis’ death, which would have been a natural assumption in the story. But the film focuses on Louis’ morals and stringent rules for not messing with the future. Until he does, later on in the film.
From a post way back in 2010, on his blog, “Lights Camera Jackson,” film critic Jackson Murphy writes:
What makes a good kids’ movie? Well, for me, a good kids’ movie has to appeal to people of all ages, and not just kids. Yes, you need an interesting story and characters, but you can say that about every film project. The special kids’ / family films have heart and most of them also have an important message to teach.
Here again, The Adam Project has a bit more in common with the Guardians' films than it does with the Spielberg/Amblin films director Shawn Levy seems to be referencing. It takes spending time with his younger self for Big Adam to realize why he is so angry with their father. This realization comes to light through Young Adam: “I think it’s easier to be angry than it is to be sad. And I guess, when I get older, I forget that there’s a difference.”
Heart and… an important message to teach, Murphy’s blog is not wrong. The Adam Project definitely has heart and it attempts to teach its characters (and in tandem, its viewers) that it’s okay to grieve and be sad. There’s a definite “Don’t fuck with me, Sean,” Good Will Hunting moment towards the end of the film, when Mark Ruffalo's dad tells Ryan Reynolds' son over and over how much he loves him and is proud of him until Big Adam is crying while his dad and younger self hug him. It’s cathartic in more ways than one. Reynolds has said in interviews that he drew on his own journey dealing with grief after the death of his own father to build his performance in The Adam Project and I think it shows. Don’t get me wrong, Reynolds still tries to slip in a quippy quip every now and then, but his Big Adam Reed is a much more angry/sad struggling character than he has played in his past several films.
One of the more touching scenes in the film overall is not between Reynolds and Ruffalo, but between Reynolds and Garner. Ellie Reed is exhausted and at the end of her rope when she decides to get a glass of wine at a local bar, early on in the film. She is struggling with raising Young Adam on her own and she fears that he hates her right now. He doesn’t, assures “stranger” Reynolds at the bar. Their exchange, and Reynolds’ own assertion that: “boys always come back for their mamas,” was pulled from Reynolds’ own experiences after the death of his father. It’s a completely sincere moment and it probably hit me harder than anything else in the film.
While the overall action sequences of The Adam Project are somewhat forgettable, the heartfelt performances by Adam (Reynolds) and Adam (Scobell) are not. I am excited to see Scobell continue on in his film career, but more importantly, I am excited for Ryan Reynolds, who I think actually has more tricks up his sleeve performance-wise than just some smart-ass quips.
Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes plants, the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school dropout. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro and Twitter @DianaDiMuro