A Wrinkle in Time is director Ava DuVernay‘s first time helming a large budget feature after her success with 2014’s Selma, and it also marks the first time a live-action film with a $100M+ production budget has been helmed by a woman of colour. A Wrinkle in Time is very ambitious and harbours a grand scope with a story that explores the unseen parts of the universe. Unfortunately the execution isn’t great and it doesn’t leave behind a whole lot to be enjoyed. The plot follows young Meg (Storm Reid) who after the disappearance of her father (Chris Pine) is visited by three mystical beings and embarks on an adventure through the universe to find him. The scope of the story is very large whilst also remaining focused on a small group of characters so despite the fact that it misses beats a lot of the time there is stuff in here I did like. The visuals are a definite strong point, very crisp and clear, and Meg’s story actually does have a fair amount of heart and emotion going for it and it helps in offering something to keep you awake. But the negatives heavily outweigh the positives so even when it exhibits good things it still feels held back by everything else.
I’ll begin with the characters because where I loved Meg’s personal journey through the film and her overall development, I wasn’t really invested in any of the other characters aside from how they help Meg grow into her own. The path she takes through here is very engaging and its a journey all about family, love, and accepting who you are on the inside and out so her story individual story has a strong message to it. The relationship with her younger brother and her missing father is a well executed dynamic here and gives the film a lot of heart and a couple of strong emotional scenes you genuinely care about. But all of the other characters don’t really have any individual arcs or growth, more or less the people they are at the outset is who they are when the credits roll. They serve their role in strengthening Meg’s character but there wasn’t really anything about them to latch onto. Her younger brother Charles Wallace played by very well by Deric McCabe is the most engaging of the rest of the cast but that’s due to his very unique ‘out there’ personality being quite the opposite to everyone else in here. The three beings played by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah Winfrey are fine, I didn’t really enjoy watching them specifically but they bother me that much. They’re vessels used to drive the plot forward and say motivational things to Meg, so they’re there but they’re not interesting characters.
And then there’s Calvin, Levi Miller‘s character whose name I had to look up and whose overall purpose in this story is pretty non-existent. He kind of just shows up at one point and joins the adventure but we don’t know who he is and it’s almost as if Meg doesn’t know really who he is but he sticks around anyway. His character just feels so damn forced into this story like he was shoved in just for some sort of cliché romantic angle because he doesn’t really do anything. And I’ve got nothing against Levi’s performance, I feel like he plays the character as he has been instructed it’s just that there isn’t a place in the story for him which is why he just floats around. The rest of the performances are all very fine, Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw included, it’s just the writing of these characters and the way they do or don’t play into the story which is very subpar.
The overall story and physical journey the characters take through the universe fails to be engaging at almost any moment. As I mentioned, aside from Meg’s personal story there’s nothing of value to really grasp onto. The pacing is completely out of whack, the initial setup moves so fast it’s hard to follow and leads to further issues, then later on large chunks of the film slow down to where it occasionally becomes a bit of a bore. The biggest problem stemming from the opening act being so rushed is a lot of the character decisions and reactions to certain events don’t come across as very genuine, like the writers have just had characters accept certain things that I’d expect one would be questioning profusely. It also begins at a point where it feels like there’s a lot of missing information, especially with Charles Wallace whose journey is already underway when Meg’s story begins, some of this becomes clearer with time but it’s all still a bit iffy. So many sequences just drag on and slow the film down drastically. For instance, one location they visit where they meet a character played by Zach Galifianakis is eternally boring, the film screeches to a halt and it takes a bit to break out of that lull which is a shame. There is an antagonistic presence in here as is expected, but I still don’t understand it and exactly what or why or how it is. I won’t go into detail about it to withhold spoilers but it’s just weirdly conveyed.
So in the end, Ava DuVernay’s first venture into the world of big budget fantasy adventures hasn’t really gone to plan but she does some good things in here and she’s more than proven her talents as a director in the past so I’m looking forward to her next project. Storm Reid is the strongest link in here and her performance brings a tonne of heart and emotion and beauty to the story where no-one else really does to the same level. Her growth over time is one of only things about the story I could grab onto and enjoy following, but despite it being good it’s not enough to hold up the rest of the film. The performances are all fine and the visuals exceptional but with the lacklustre story and characters it’s hard to really recommend the movie. As a casual watch I feel there might be just enough in here that a family audience can enjoy but don’t expect that exciting of a fantasy adventure.