Warning: Spoilers for “The Adam Project” follow below.
Most time-travel movies don’t end in tears, but “The Adam Project” may necessitate an entire box of Kleenex for some viewers.
The Netflix original film finds a fighter pilot from the year 2050, Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds), crash-landing in the year 2022 after traveling through time. There, Adam teams up with his younger self (played by newcomer Walker Scobell) to try and stop time travel from ever being invented, thus fixing the future.
In the year 2022, young Adam is reeling from the recent death of his father, Louis (Mark Ruffalo) – who just so happens to have invented time travel shortly before he died in a car accident. Adult Adam, too, is clearly still scarred by his father’s abrupt death, made all the more painful by the fact that his father was always preoccupied with his work when he was still alive.
In 2022, the two Adams realize that in order to prevent time travel from being invented, they have to go further back into the past to when their father was alive to stop him from creating it. They arrive in 2018 and tussle with Louis’ business partner Maya (Catherine Keener), who has been traveling back in time from the future to help her past self grow wealthy (to the detriment of pretty much everyone else).
Maya is defeated (both her older time-traveling self and younger still somewhat-innocent self) by the two Adams and Louis, and with time travel now scuttled, the boys and their father need only wait until the timeline sorts itself and sends the Adams back to their own fixed times. So what do they do? They go home and play catch.
It’s a wildly emotional moment, and director and producer Shawn Levy understood it could have gone sideways very easily. “We actually shot versions where Ryan’s character names the fact that, ‘Isn’t this a little cliché?’ but ultimately decided that if we’ve earned the audience engagement by minute 96 and they’re still with us, they’re gonna ride this feeling all the way to the end,” Levy told TheWrap in a recent interview about the film.
The filmmaker – who recently teamed up with Reynolds on the 2021 blockbuster “Free Guy” – then explained how with his last two films, he’s embraced his emotional tendencies as a director.
“Being the kind of filmmaker I am, I’m betting that if I do my job right people are gonna ride a feeling. And it certainly worked that way on ‘Free Guy,’ and it seems to be working that way on ‘The Adam Project’. It doesn’t mean every critic is gonna agree – I’m sure people will talk s— about it here and there. But the reality is I’m trying to make decidedly uncynical, humanist movies in an era where darkness, nihilism, cynicism are de facto gestures. I know what I am now as a filmmaker. I don’t apologize for it, I don’t run from it.”
So why a game of catch for the emotional climax of the film? “These sons and this father need to bring closure in the way that many fathers and sons do, which is non-verbally and through shared activity. Because that’s how life actually happens, and it might be a cliché but that doesn’t make it any less true,” Levy explained.
What makes the scene even more emotional is that despite young Adam’s efforts, Louis refuses to learn about what might happen to him in the future for fear of disrupting the timeline even further. Which means that he’s still going to die.
Was there consideration made to change Louis’ fate?
“There was never a campaign to make that change,” Levy answered. “The question was asked early on, I don’t recall whether it was a producer or Netflix, but it was never even considered.”
The filmmaker defended the choice to make a “happy-sad” ending like so many films before. “I like happy-sad endings. If you look at ‘Free Guy,’ he doesn’t end up with Molotov Girl. They say goodbye forever. And an ending like that, that ‘Edward Scissorhands’ kind of ending, that ‘Good Will Hunting’ kind of ending, I love them the most. And so ‘Adam Project’ couldn’t end in an organic way and be completely happy, it needed to be happy-sad. There’s a nobility to that character that Ruffalo plays as a result.”
Indeed, the film ends not on Louis standing alone in his yard, but on both Adams somewhat remembering the events of their time-travel adventures that have been wiped from memory. Adult Adam runs into Laura (Zoe Saldana) while attending class in 2050, and while the two are now strangers instead of married, something pushes the two of them together.
And in the most heartwarming moment of them all, young Adam in 2022 is about to leave for school before he stops dead in his tracks, turns around, and gives his mom (played by Jennifer Garner) a hug.
Talk about riding a feeling.
“The Adam Project” is now streaming on Netflix.