Checking in on Netflix’ big ‘every week’ originals push

Can you hear the quipping? Images courtesy Netflix.

3/10 The Adam Project is the intersection of ongoing commercial efforts from Ryan Reynolds to stay in the Deadpool character he likes so much and from Netflix to assert their ability to draw Hollywood talent. Those aren’t real reasons to make, like, a work of art, but it’s OK, because this isn’t a work of art – it’s just a movie. Give everybody a dead dad or a dead wife, and presto!

2022- Adam Reed (Reynolds, who also produces) crashes back through time from 2050 to hide with a 12-year-old version of himself (Walker Scobell). Together, the pair must – ahh, there’s a lot of things going on. Their father, Louis (Mark Ruffalo), invented time travel, but he just died, so they have to go back a little further to talk to him, and his financier, Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), is evil and she’s pursuing them from 2050, so there’s action scenes. The older Reed’s wife, Laura (Zoe Saldana), has also come back in time to do the same thing, they’re trying to find her too. It’s a lot, there’s a lot going on.

The Adam Project is the third movie under Reynolds’ Maximum Effort label, which developed from his first Deadpool movie in 2016. Reynolds had been pushing to play an unfiltered, comics-accurate version character for more than a decade at that point, and because of Deadpool’s fourth wall-breaking gimmick, the sterling marketing effort effectively became part of the movie. That’s what’s larger about playing Deadpool, and I think it’s part of what Reynolds enjoys so much about it – it’s not just acting, it’s selling more movies with the character and finding ways to remain in character or insert the character into daily life.

His R-rated superhero is something that he fought for years to get and is still at risk of having taken away, so it makes sense that he pushes it so hard, but it quickly becomes clear how limited the character can be when Deadpool’s words are coming out of a 12-year-old’s mouth. Most of the movie is that very specific brand of sarcasm playing against itself, and something that always threatened to become annoying gets there immediately when it’s in stereo.

Netflix, finally feeling the heat of competition after two years of lockdown, is asserting itself with weekly releases all through 2022, with The Adam Project as the highest-profile offering in its first quarter. This is the tip of a year-long spear that wants to impale you to your couch and prove Hollywood-style blockbusters can survive and thrive online, and yeah, sure. Anyone can make something like The Adam Project. After more than a decade of stagnation in blockbuster quality and increasing uniformity in their plots, that was never in any doubt.

As with many movies that are mostly concerned with their commercial stature, the process of actually sitting down and watching The Adam Project is strange and surreal.

With no actual emotions driving it, the movie collects stock anxieties that are supposed to be universal – bullies, dead wife, dead parents and a difficult relationship with the parents. The movie uses time travel to have these every possible way, with two versions of Adam Reed, one of whom resents parents he currently lives with and the other of whom regrets his teenage behavior, and their dad gets to be both dead and dearly missed and alive and neglectful within the runtime. 

My mind immediately wanders back to The Batman, which confronts the iconic orphaned action hero with a handful of other orphans who aren’t all action heroes, and really airs out how weird this whole thing has gotten. Dead parents and other loved ones are almost a barrier of entry for movie protagonists now, so much so that the really big ones, like Henry Cavill’s Superman or the Andrew Garfield version of Spider-Man, have started getting multiple sets. They’re so super that they’ve got more dead parents than most people have total parents.

For a movie so half-assed and sarcastic in so many other ways, the ships, armor and other future technology are strikingly original. They’re not exactly good, but it’s obvious a lot more work has gone into them than other aspects of the film.

It’s not just strange and surreal to watch, it’s difficult. It’s a real effort to pay attention to this movie, one I know won’t be rewarded. The Adam Project is a textbook example of the uniform in-house style Netflix has developed since it shifted to focusing on original content, that sort of flat, vacant cinematography, almost like a multi-camera TV show setup where the goal is more efficiently maximizing output during limited shooting time with your stars than anything interesting.

The Adam Project even seems to bring this mentality or making a movie for people who are only half-watching to its plot, which would explain both why there’s so much going on and why it’s all so stock. The moments of catharsis in this movie are so generic they seem meant for viewers who weren’t really paying attention to the setup will be able to mentally fill the blanks in during the payoff, as if I’m meant to reconstruct a movie-like experience in my mind as the credits roll instead of really experiencing it.

I can watch The Adam Project in my pajamas. I can pause it for more popcorn or to go to the bathroom. I can take a cold shower, take a nap, take a warm shower, go get some Toaster Strudel and go back to the store again because I don’t own a toaster all without missing a second – anything I could possibly need to do to regain my focus, and it’s not going to change the fact that my focus will drift away again a few seconds after I hit play because The Adam Project is so unremarkable.

Netflix has invested astonishing amounts of time and money in the breadth of their library, cultivating a social media presence, developing an easily digestible visual style that lets viewers cross into new movies easily and bringing in the biggest-name talent available to promote this new style, but what does any of it matter if the movies aren’t good?

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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