With its stacked cast, award-winning director, and beloved source material, it’s easy to see why A Wrinkle in Time is one of the most highly anticipated films of 2018. Reviews from critics have already come in and, well, they are noticeably lukewarm.
A Wrinkle in Time currently has a 45 percent approval rating based on 66 reviews. Of the 16 top critics, only nine have given the film a positive review. Was A Wrinkle in Time a massive misfire, or did it just fail to live up to unrealistic expectations? Here is what critics are saying about the new Disney film.
The movie, which is based on Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved 1962 fantasy book of the same name, tells the story of Meg Murry (Storm Reid), a 13-year-old girl who must embark on a quest to save her physicist father (Chris Pine) after learning that he is being held hostage on a distant planet by a mysterious evil force. Meg is joined by her brainy but bizarre younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and her classmate Calvin (Levi Miller). She is also assisted by Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Who (Reese Witherspoon), three supernatural beings who sporadically appear to provide Meg with sage wisdom through quotes by Shakespeare, Einstein, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
For critics who did not enjoy the film, the primary issue seems to come from the film failing to deliver any sort of moral or lesson beyond its earnest message of self-acceptance. As Amy Nicholson of The Guardian writes, “The film has the feel of an iPad video pawned off on a toddler so Dad can make comforting mac and cheese – here’s a bite-sized lesson about loving yourself and a jumble of pretty colors.”
Several critics echoed her sentiment, noting that, while the book features valuable lessons about conformity, identity, and resisting the urge to give into life’s darkness, the movie waters down these complexities to the point where it resembles the plethora of kids movies that are released every year.
Mick Lasalle of The San Francisco Chronicle agrees, writing that while A Wrinkle in Time starts off teaching necessary lessons for kids trying to make sense of their role and responsibility in the world, “the movie begins to lose some of its moral drive, as the movie subtly shifts from a battle against ultimate evil to a battle against negative thought and politically incorrect ideology.”
Critics were split on director Ava DuVernay’s transition into the world of blockbusters. Brian Truitt from USA Today praises DuVernay’s “interesting visual style,” which “does wonders in crafting an inviting fantasy landscape.” Several other critics similarly praised DuVernay’s ambition and willingness to take chances, while others felt that she failed to keep the film focused. David Fear from Rolling Stone argues that DuVernay’s directing makes the entire film feel like an uncomfortable tug of war and notes that the director “doesn’t so much win said war as fight it to a draw.”
Opinions were every bit as mixed when it came to assessing the cast, as some critics celebrated the performances, while others felt several of the actors were miscast. Linda Holmes from NPR praised the cast, arguing that “the performances DuVernay gets from her young leads are impressive.” However, several other critics, including Rafer Guzmán of Newsday, criticizes the cast for not bringing their characters to life in a believable way.
There is an especially strong divide over Oprah’s portrayal of Mrs. Which, the most powerful of the three supernatural beings who assist Meg in her attempt to find her father. Stephen Whitty from the New York Daily News calls Oprah’s performance a “disaster” that mostly consists of her “parading slowly through her scenes like an empress, royally dispensing self-empowering mottoes and solemn words of wisdom.” However, Moira Macdonald of the Seattle Times praised the film for letting Mrs. Which embrace her “essential and undisguisable Oprah-ness” instead of trying to ignore the fact that the character is being played by the living legend.
Now, reviews don’t make or break a blockbuster. But, given its sky-high expectations, it’s hard to see A Wrinkle in Time’s ho-hum critical reception as anything other than a disappointment.