Action movies don’t get much credit in the film world. They’re regarded mainly as aesthetic pieces, with an emphasis on dynamic car chases rather than deeper meeting. Conflict is typically reduced to a black-and-white binary, and the overarching plot is usually predictable. Complexity of feeling is sacrificed for immediate entertainment, but such a trade-off is a hallmark of the genre. But, when action movies are done well, they can make for an engaging two hours, which, at the end of the day, is really their main goal.
Netflix’s “The Adam Project” is that type of action movie. The film features almost every stamp of the genre, from aerial warfare to an uncomplicated villain to a triumph of morality at the very end. It is fast-paced and plotted linearly, and the emotions always verge on cliche. It is, in other words, exactly what it’s meant to be.
The film follows the story of Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) — a fighter pilot from the future who has traveled back in time and crashed his jet in 2022. He’s initially in search of his wife, who disappeared on a separate mission in 2018. When he accidently lands four years too late, however, he runs into his twelve year-old self (Walker Scobell), whose help he then solicits to get his mission back on course.
The future, as it turns out, is not a pretty landscape. Instead, it is full of death and decay and is run by a ruthless tech tycoon Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener). Upon her entry to the film, Maya is immediately cast as its antagonist. She has tampered with time itself, returning to the past to give her past self an economic advantage. Her selfish trip was successful and has since allowed her to maintain a monopoly on the world’s time travel technology.
This technology was created by Adam’s father (Mark Ruffalo) in 2018, who was Maya’s partner at the time. His magnetic particle accelerator was a remarkable but accidental invention. After his death only a few years later — which left Adam fatherless at age eleven — the invention’s use was left without his oversight. Maya continued to unethically employ the accelerator for her own personal gain, and thus the future came to be the awful, “terminator-like” place that adult Adam hates.
Adam’s mission is a simple one: He wants to save the future. To do so, he and his child self travel back to 2018, teaming up with their father in an attempt to destroy time travel itself.
“The Adam Project” is more complicated than its basic plot structure. Adam Reed is a witty kid — big-mouthed but small-bodied, which makes him the perfect target for any middle school bully. His mother (Jennifer Garner) is undeniably strong, but she is hurt by her son’s insensitive remarks, as Adam often fails to see that his father’s death has left her completely on her own. Adult Adam feels neglected by his dad, who he tells during his visit to the past to “stop being a scientist.” He wants, instead, for him to be a father.
As with any action film, The Adam Project features an obligatory love interest. Laura Shane (Zoe Saldaña) is adult Adam’s fighter pilot wife, who he is forced to part with several times. Their relationship is, at times, oversaturated — characterized by tearful partings, cliche gazes and cinematic orchestra music that is as cheesy as it gets. Laura’s status as a talented and resourceful pilot, however, does much to make up for this. She is equal to Adam on every level.
Adam’s relationship with his dad is similarly cheesy. Adam’s relationship with his mom, by contrast, is perhaps the most moving piece of the movie. Early on, adult Adam finds himself sitting across from his mother at a bar in the past. While he knows perfectly well that the moment in time has already passed, being his adult, time-traveling self, she, existing solely in the past, does not recognize the grown-up version of her son. Here, he shares with her what he wishes his kid self would have said more often: Her son loves her, and he always will.
Cheesiness aside, the writing of the film is clever. Adam has a quick tongue, and the acidic remarks both his kid and adult selves constantly fire at each other are genuinely funny. Cinematically, the movie is impressive. The jet-chases are dynamic — reminiscent of those taking place in a galaxy far, far away — and the particle accelerator looks as if it could be installed in a modern Death Star. Quiet, beautiful moments are also incorporated to contrast with all of this enormous, futuristic machinery. When adult Adam first crash-lands, for instance, his jet leaves debris made mostly of burning bits of ash. They fall, like rain, on his kid self in the middle of a darkened forest, and the visual effect is stunning.
“The Adam Project” is not the kind of movie that’s going to be up for an Academy Award next year, but that shouldn’t be the film’s goal. It is a PG-13 movie, providing two hours of high-speed, low-commitment entertainment for the whole family. It’s an easy watch — requiring little emotional investment — but is able to capture the heartfelt dynamics of an incomplete home when necessary. Really, it’s exactly what it promises to be: an action movie, and nothing more.