A Wrinkle in Time offers an engaging family-friendly sci-fi adventure, but falls short of reaching the potential of its talented cast and director.
Ever since her Academy Award-winning 2014 film Selma, director Ava DuVernay has been one of the most sought-after filmmakers in Hollywood. After Selma, rumors indicated DuVernay was eyed for both Marvel Studios' Black Panther and a Star Wars movie at Lucasfilm, though she didn't end up directing either. Instead, she stayed under the Disney umbrella and worked with screenwriter Jennifer Lee to bring an adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's classic novel, A Wrinkle in Time, to life. Originally published in 1962, L'Engle's tale of sci-fi adventure aimed at young readers has become a book beloved by many. Now, the story comes to life in DuVernay's adaptation. A Wrinkle in Time offers an engaging family-friendly sci-fi adventure, but falls short of reaching the potential of its talented cast and director.
A Wrinkle in Time follows young Meg Murry (Storm Reid), who lives a happy life with mother Dr. Kate Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), father Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine) and younger adopted brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). However, Meg's father disappears one day, shortly after he discussed the possibility of using astrophysics to traverse the galaxy in seconds. Four years after his disappearance, Meg is misunderstood and bullied at school, causing trouble by fighting back against mean girl Veronica (Rowan Blanchard). Meg's life begins to change again, though, with the arrivals of Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) who have come to help Meg find her father.
Along with one of Meg's classmates, Calvin O'Keefe (Levi Miller), Meg and Charles Wallace set off with the three Mrs. to track their father's footsteps across the universe. The Mrs. reveal that Dr. Murry discovered the means of travel called tessering - to fold space in order to travel great distances instantly - and the kids follow their father's journey until they encounter a great evil simply called It. With the help of the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis), Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin are able to locate Dr. Murry on the world of Camazotz. But, with the three young kids facing It - and Meg additionally dealing with her own issues of identity and self-doubt - it's unclear if they'll be able to save Dr. Murry and make it home safely.
The story of A Wrinkle in Time blends whimsical characters and settings with scientific concepts, and doesn't quite stick the landing when mixing these disparate aspects together. Considering the concept of tessering, the unexplained beings that are the Mrs., and the extremely simplistic conflicts of good vs evil/light vs dark as well as the rescue mission for Dr. Murry, A Wrinkle in Time requires plenty of world-building. Unfortunately, the film achieves this world-building with a great deal of exposition and dialogue that explains what a character is doing either just before or while they're doing it. This results in some eye-rolling segments of over-explaining that impact and slow down the pacing in otherwise exciting sequences. With that said, the visuals of certain sequences are captivatingly brilliant and DuVernay showcases an adeptness in balancing CGI-laden shots with closeups on the characters to ground the fantastical images with some emotional weight - though some sequences are more successful than others in terms of believable CGI.
On the whole, A Wrinkle in Time suffers from laying the groundwork for an exciting, high-concept science fiction adventure with a diverse cast of interesting characters, but never quite lives up to that potential. To be certain, Reid's Meg Murry is the star of the film, with the most depth and most developed character arc - though that arc is somewhat underserved by the script. Reid embodies the Chosen One character of Meg with as much grace as previous child stars did their highly anticipated film heroes, and will give a new generation a hero to look up to. Miller's Calvin acts as a companion to Meg, supporting her and believing in her even when she doesn't believe in herself. The two also share a very sweet romantic subplot that works solely on the charm of Reid and Miller's dynamic. Perhaps the weakest of the young characters is McCabe's Charles Wallace, though it's largely due to the character often serving as the vehicle for story exposition or the instigator of plot progress. McCabe was also given the nearly impossible task of a particular character development in the third act that even a veteran actor would struggle with, and, unfortunately, it comes off more comically campy than compellingly dramatic.
As for Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, Witherspoon, Kaling, and Winfrey turn out delightfully absurd performances as these three unexplainable beings. However, like many of the characters in A Wrinkle in Time, they aren't given much to do in the script beyond move the story forward or explain things to the characters and viewers. Witherspoon's Mrs. Whatsit is granted the most personality and the most to do for much of the film, while Kaling's Mrs. Who is the most underused of the three beings. Unfortunately, Winfrey's Mrs. Which is a one-note stock mentor character, offering Meg encouragement and wise words when she needs it but doing little else. Back on Earth, Mbatha-Raw's Dr. Kate Murry and Pine's Dr. Alex Murry are more well-developed than the Mrs., with their relationship serving as a surprisingly compelling anchor for the story. Mbatha-Raw and Pine turn out exceptional performances for their relatively smaller roles and offer another dimension to the narrative.
All in all, A Wrinkle in Time had the potential to be both a compelling character piece with a well-rounded female lead surrounded by well-developed characters and an epic spectacle-filled sci-fi adventure, but falls short of nailing either. All the characters are underserved by the story and sometimes take a back seat to explaining the world and science of the film - though that's also frustratingly simplistic at times. DuVernay is undoubtedly a skilled director, bringing to life concepts and ideas that others may not even be able to imagine; the cast of A Wrinkle in Time is exceptionally talented, delivering largely captivating performances that are simply weighed down by the story and exposition. Further, the movie's themes of self-identity and the importance of family are important, but hammered home with little subtly. With all that said, many of the film's problems derive from A Wrinkle in Time being aimed - almost to its detriment - at young children.
This is a movie made for kids to understand, for kids to marvel at, and for kids to learn how to be a warrior for good from. It's rare nowadays to see a film that has been unabashedly made for its youngest viewers, with many movies often including subtle adult jokes to tide over parents. While the themes of A Wrinkle in Time are no doubt universal - and can appeal to viewers of all ages - the film really is made with kids in mind, and is restricted in its execution because of that fact. So, while A Wrinkle in Time will be a must-see for fans of the L'Engle novel, the main target audience of this film is families with young children. Adults will still be able to enjoy A Wrinkle in Time for all its wonderful visuals - which might make it worth a trip to IMAX - and important themes, but may want to go into it with tempered expectations. A Wrinkle in Time isn't for adults, it's for kids; despite the limitations of that creative mindset seemingly preventing the film from living up to its full potential, it must also be acknowledged that Meg Murry will undoubtedly become an important cinematic hero to many young viewers who will see, and enjoy, A Wrinkle in Time.
A Wrinkle in Time is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It runs 109 minutes and is rated PG for thematic elements and some peril.
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