Special Effects: B+
If the original Madeleine L'Engle novel A Wrinkle in Time was any good -- and I'll just have to take your word for it on that -- then you're probably best just sticking with that. It seems to have been fans of the novel who were truly excited for the film adaptation, and maybe the memory of the book fills in the many broad gaps in the film. Taken on its own, the movie really doesn't work.
Watching this film, I kept thinking it was like The Never-Ending Story as seen through the prism of the world of Pandora in Avatar. The strikingly colorful visual palate is one of its enduring redeeming qualities, a feast for the eyes as a backdrop for a story that makes little sense. The effects are, with a few exceptions, very well rendered, and the cast seems to be having a great time as they move through them.
That said, A Wrinkle in Time is wildly imaginative in terms of its visuals, but fatally dull in content. It's rather a downer through much of it, contributing to an inconsistency of tone. Meg (Storm Reid) is a bullied teenager with no self-esteem, and this aspect of her character is the one plot point that ever proves truly affecting. The rest of the time, she and her adopted little brother Charles Wallace -- and for some reason he's always referred to as both names, "Charles Wallace" -- move through one fantastical world after another, with no concrete sense of why it's happening.
Three strange women show up: Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), turning Meg's bummer of an existence into one of mystery and fantasy. These three women, to their credit, are fun to watch, although making Oprah Winfrey of a size so giant as to make her seem like a god is a little on the nose.
The great flaw of A Wrinkle in Time is the script, which is clearly written with deep intent, but packed with dialogue that falls flat, filling characters' mouths with lines that are slightly off, never sounding like the natural way anyone talks in the real world. This approach might work better if the only world they ever inhabit were a fantastical one, but it's applied even more in the "real world" in which the film begins. Charles Wallace overhearing two teachers gossiping about his sister -- the way they talk to each other, which they believe is in confidence, has no sense of authenticity.
Perhaps in keeping with the whole fantasy aspect -- fantasy disguised as "science," mind you -- all of the kids cast are impossibly beautiful, and Deric McCabe as little Charles Wallace is exceedingly precocious, almost creepily so. Levi Miller as Meg's schoolmate and ultimate friend Calvin is a particularly handsome young man, and Storm Reid as Meg seems as carefully curated as any of them, although as a performer Reid seems to have the best handle on nuance. Otherwise the kids all seem straight out of central casting for a sort of generic perfection, giving them all a veneer of flawlessness that strips them of character.
So what of the story? This is the greatest challenge of the movie, since we're meant to believe Whatsit, Who and Which are assisting the kids in finding Meg and Charles Wallace's scientist father (Chris Pine), who has been missing for four years, but it's never made clear why. It's nice to see Meg develop into a more fully realized version of herself and gain some confidence, but that's a story that can be done a lot more effectively without the fantastical trappings thrown at us here -- and yet, those trappings are the only interesting things about the movie. I literally nodded off six or seven times, I found the story so dull.
I'd say that A Wrinkle in Time had great potential that it failed to realize, except I can't even figure out what its potential was. I left the movie just wondering what was the point.