I do not envy anyone that wants to make a high concept sci-fi epic. There are so many different pieces that need to fall into place in order to make something that’s truly special and engaging. Most of the time, when you see a massive sci-fi fantasy epic come to theatres, it flounders and falls apart for a couple of the same reasons. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Transcendence, and Tomorrowland were filled with such potential and promise, but the execution left a lot to be desired.
Most of the time, these movies crumble under the weight of their own premise. How could any movie possibly live up to the lofty expectations that the trailers and plot synopsis (or source material, for that matter) drip fed to us? A Wrinkle in Time is the latest sci-fi epic delivered to theatres, but this time bestowed upon us by the glorious House of Mouse.
I’m going to cut right to the chase: A Wrinkle in Time is a complete mess of a movie. I would call it a disaster, but it’s not special enough to be that big of a failure.
A Wrinkle in Time
Director: Ava DuVernay
Release Date: March 9, 2018
A Wrinkle in Time is based on the 1962 novel of the same name, written by Madeline L’Engle. Now while I personally haven’t read the novel, I don’t believe that familiarity with the source material is completely necessary to enjoy an adaptation. In my mind, an adaptation should be able to stand on its own. I’m entering this world for the first time, so what is the movie going to do to sell me on this world, its characters, and its themes?
Meg Murray’s a teenage girl whose dad vanished four years ago for unknown reasons. According to her mom, her dad was researching fifth-dimensional physics and was trying to figure out how to “wrinkle” through time and space. Theoretically, it should allow a person to travel billions of light years in seconds, but when he vanished, Meg began to question where he went. It’s not until Meg’s genius little brother Charles Wallace brings home a woman named Mrs. Whatsit who says that her father succeeded in wrinkling time that she finds out where. Now Meg, Charles Wallace, Meg’s friend/crush/boyfriend Calvin, and Mrs Whatsit’s entourage must travel around the universe in search of him.
This movie’s one positive, and a legitimate one at that, is that the movie is gorgeous to look at. Every scene is visually striking and has a combination of surreal imagery, fantastic special effects, or just awesome concepts. Flowers that communicate through color, a 1950’s neighborhood where everything oddly syncs up, and having our heroes walk on geometric designs are just a few of the cool visuals on display.
A movie should be more than just beautiful pictures. It needs likeable characters, themes, an interesting story, and has to really connect with audiences. The characters of A Wrinkle in Time are some of the blandest and most unlikeable kids I’ve seen in quite some time. None of them have anything going for them besides being a teenager and dealing with teenage problems … with the exception of Charles Wallace. Charles has the special distinction of approaching Anakin Skywalker levels of annoyance. I can’t tell if it’s his voice, how he always explains everything that’s happening, or if we never really find out why he’s so smart or how he can communicate with celestial beings, but he’s just an amalgamation of everything wrong with child actors.
The adventure that these kids go on could have been something special and meaningful, but it somehow manages to be both too complicated and too simple. The main threat our heroes have to deal with is an intergalactic embodiment of negativity and evil that seeps through reality to remove all good and light from the world. It can wrinkle time at will and is so powerful that it can corrupt worlds and rob them of their light. So how do our heroes fight this being, known only as It? With the power of love. The power of love saves the universe and destroys this monster because it just does.
You can tell just by watching A Wrinkle in Time that a lot of the high concept sci-fi was either dumbed down or completely removed from the movie. Love saves the universe, you can do anything if you believe in yourself, and accepting your faults makes you a better person, it’s just that doing that here won’t get you the power of Persona, but instead lets you wrinkle time without being hurt. How… powerful?
All of the scenes here start and end abruptly with little to no cohesion. We’ll get whisked away to a new world, only to see us quickly leave there without so much as a dissolve. We start over here, but now we’re over here! There’s no real reason why we go from location to location except we’re told that we’re meant to be progressing.
It never feels like we’re going on an epic adventure across space and time. We just show up at this interesting place, have a scene, then leave it without a fuss. That would work in some fantasy movies where the focus isn’t strongly on the plot, but here everything just comes across as pointless. None of the drama in the beginning of the movie matters by the end. Meg gets bullied by a teenager girl. So what? It’s literally never brought up by Meg when she’s on her adventure and only gets a weak, half-assed resolution at the end.
I would say that A Wrinkle in Time reminds me of Disney’s other sci-fi epic misfire Tomorrowland, but Tomorrowland was fine until it’s third act. There were stakes, interesting world-building, and we were taken on a conspiratorial chase that ended with a whimper. It was unsatisfying, but at least most of the movie worked. When A Wrinkle in Time isn’t being visually stunning, it’s weighed down by fluff and inoffensive mush.
I’m not saying that all sci-fi movies should have an edge to them. There are great sci-fi movies aimed at children, whether it’s Star Wars, The Iron Giant, or Flight of the Navigator. All of those movies are great for families and can engage their audiences because they know what audiences want to see. All of those movies have both style and substance to them. A Wrinkle in Time is just style and really bad, dumb, childish substance.
I had no idea what was happening half the time and the other half I was rolling my eyes at how much I hated what I was watching. I didn’t care about these characters or why they were trying to save Meg’s dad. I didn’t care that the fate of the universe was hanging in the balance. For all I cared, I would be totally fine with letting It destroy the universe with hate and space tentacles. When your movie has me apathetic towards the fate of all existence, you’ve done something wrong. Very, very wrong.