Director Ava DuVernay took on a huge task after making her Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma: an adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘60s science-fiction book A Wrinkle in Time for Disney.
A girl’s scientist father goes missing after messing with quantum physics and “wrinkling” time so that he falls out of their plane of existence. Now the youngster and a cadre of others (be they giant Oprahs or kid sidekicks) must seek him out and rescue him from the overwhelming evil approaching the universe.
The stakes were high, as was the budget, and her journey has been well-documented on social media. As the first reviews of the film roll in, the results of this children’s romp through other dimensions don’t seem to measure up to the big expectations.
Here's what the critics have to say:
Variety’s Peter Debruge writes that despite the bold casting and big visuals, the film is “wildly uneven, weirdly suspenseless, and tonally all over the place, relying on wall-to-wall music to supply the missing emotional connection and trowel over huge plot holes.” He says that the plot and characters get watered down to make room for the tourism of the off-world dimensions and starscapes. This reliance on visuals is “so consistently distracting that we risk losing sight of its best ideas,” which makes the film’s emotions feel flat.
That’s how Todd McCarthy starts off his review for The Hollywood Reporter, with the bottom line saying only “a disappointment.” He says that “only the faintest glimmers of genuine, earned emotion pierce through the layers of intense calculation” that come from DuVernay’s film, which is also done disservice by “endless self-esteem-raising platitudes.” However, McCarthy praises such strange side pleasures as “a flying dragon, weird and gorgeous landscapes, the Mrs.'s constant makeup and wardrobe changes, and an encounter with a character played by Zach Galifianakis whose utterances are about as amusing his name, Happy Medium.”
Those fun pieces of weirdness, coupled with the film’s message about believing in yourself, is why Marie Claire’s Yolando Machado says it’s less about the movie being good or bad. She writes that “even if it wasn't perfect, A Wrinkle In Time is giving leaders of tomorrow permission to say, ‘Like Meg, I can be anything I want.’”
That’s enough for some critics, but for others like EW’s Darren Franich, even this message falls flat. This well-intentioned message is “flattened into familiar wonders, a sincere attempt at empowerment crushed into preachy dullness,” Franich writes. It’s a story that never quite earns what it’s selling.
While it’s unclear if audiences will respond the same way, these responses complicate the weekend’s box office question, which assumed that A Wrinkle In Time would pose serious competition to Black Panther’s dominance.