Netflix doesn’t make art; It makes products. They may feign prestige by distributing the odd artistic statement by highly acclaimed filmmakers — like this year’s Best Picture front runner “The Power of the Dog” — but this is merely a smokescreen. It’s a ploy to try to get its consumers to think the company pushes to make great works of art. In reality, what gets the most money, the most promotion and the most attention are always safe, uninspired movies that end up leaving no cultural footprint whatsoever, unless it becomes a meme.
“The Adam Project,” the latest in this endless factory line of dull, corporate schlock, feels like it was created by an algorithm. It’s the amalgamation of all the worst things about blockbuster filmmaking in the last five to 10 years. Out-of-place pop songs that ultimately add nothing to a scene? Check. Snappy, trying-to-be-clever banter between characters even when it doesn’t really fit the characters or tone of the scene? Check. Lighting, editing and shot composition that make it look more like a television show than a movie? Check. It never feels like any actual choices were made. Any decision about the way the film looks or was written feels like it was predetermined by a computer well before any work began.
Where this lack of risk-taking really becomes a problem is in the storytelling. For a film so focused on plot, you’d think there would be a bit more intrigue in its narrative structuring. Indeed, the premise — a time-traveling, sci-fi adventure where a man goes back in time to meet his younger self — seems like it would be rife with interesting twists and turns, as it has been when used in other films like Rian Johnson’s “Looper.” Instead, it settles for a very basic three-act structure that hits story and emotional beats we have seen a million times before. It’s safe. It’s predictable. It’s boring. Now, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with this kind of plot structure, but when the film does hardly anything interesting thematically, it really makes you wonder why this particular story needed to be told in the first place.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the success of “Deadpool” influenced Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking in all the worst ways. Ryan Reynolds (“Free Guy”) has been all over any big non-franchise film to come out over the last couple of years (see “Free Guy” and “Red Notice”). The quippy, ironic dialogue that has become a trademark of Reynolds, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken over modern big-budget cinema. But it had already grown tired by the time “Deadpool 2” came out in 2018. Now, in a movie where every character — including a 13-year-old Walker Scobell (debut) doing his best with bad material — has a constant need to get the last word in, listening to everyone speak is exhausting and annoying.
While it’s nice to see that Hollywood will still spend big money to make a movie not based on an existing property, these films all suffer from the same problems that middling franchise fare have been dealing with for a while now: They are not actually original. When audiences cry out for more original mainstream films, they aren’t talking about moving away from intellectual property; they are talking about films that take risks and try something new. In fact, you can make a pretty great “original” movie out of an existing franchise (see “Mad Max: Fury Road”). But you need to make bold choices to do that, and because Netflix cares more about making money than making art, it is highly unwilling to take the risks necessary to make a truly “original” big-budget movie. That’s just the nature of the business, unfortunately. It’s hostile towards creativity because the entire goal is to minimize risk. When you’re targeting the broadest possible audience, it becomes very difficult to try things that may alienate potential consumers.
“The Adam Project” is everything wrong with modern blockbuster cinema. It makes the safest possible choices at every turn and becomes a very boring final product as a result. This is a film made for people who want to turn their brain off and mindlessly consume media. We as audiences need to demand more from our art than for it just to be mildly fun entertainment. Unfortunately, as long as companies like Disney and Netflix are calling the shots, big-budget filmmaking will continue to be nothing more than pointless, sanitized content.
Daily Arts Writer Mitchel Green can be reached at email@example.com.