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The Adam Project is a time travel movie that sends future pilot Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) back in time to meet up with his younger self (Walker Scobell). It's a fun setup, and Scobell's killer impression of his older co-star makes it seem like you're really watching the same person at two different ages thanks to the wonder of time travel. But, how does time travel work?
Every movie or show has its own rules. Branching timelines? Multiverses? Back to the Future rules or should we be worried about a character becoming their own grandfather? Time travel tends to be inherently complex.
So, in The Adam Project, director Shawn Levy went to great lengths to make sure the movie's time travel "rules" were really easy to understand.
"I hope you might tell me that this is one of the most elemental and simple time travel movies ever made. I am happy to be the plebe who made a concise, simple-minded time travel movie," Levy tells SYFY WIRE. "Because, you know what? I don't want my movies to be homework. I want them to be emotionally engaging. I know that when I watch a super-dense cerebral time travel movie, if I'm working my ass off just to understand it, I'm not connecting to the characters."
The Adam Project's time travel rules are indeed pretty rudimentary; even at the margins, where they might start to be confusing if you think about them too hard, it doesn't really matter because the movie's vibes carry you through. As Reynolds' Adam explains to his younger self, everybody has a fixed time — "one place in time where you belong on a quantum level" — and when you go back to that time you came from, your memories will reform and reconcile to account for any changes. Basically, if you go back in time and change things, you won't really know because it will have been worked out when you get back to your present.
The sequence where Adam explains time travel also features a line where he criticizes his kid self for suggesting that time travel creates a multiverse, saying he watches "too many movies." Levy says this isn't an explicit dig at Spider-Man: No Way Home or the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but that he and the other filmmakers were "very aware of the obsession with multiverses and character universes in general. We are definitely championing the viability of original storytelling in the face of a franchise-laden landscape."
The Adam Project is neither a superhero with various multiverses to keep track of, nor is it a Christopher Nolan movie where it can take a minute (or several) to understand the mechanics of time travel. With The Adam Project, Levy's "priority" was "to connect [audiences] with the characters and root for them and invest in them in an emotional way."
Those movies can certainly have emotional stakes to go along with the intellectual ones, and even complex time travel rules, like in the Loki series, for instance, can be effective.
When SYFY WIRE spoke with the cast and creator of Loki, they all more or less admitted that they weren't 100 percent clear on the rules of time travel in the show but they were clear on the ultimate goal, story, and feel of the time-antics. Levy aimed to top that by making his time travel rules explicitly simple so there was no chance they could get in the way.
"I could explain [the time travel rules]. I don't know that I could do it in a sentence, but I'm proud to say that even with my small mind, I can understand the time travel rules in The Adam Project," he jokes.
The Adam Project hits Netflix on Friday.