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Dark Matter review – Joel Edgerton abducts himself in fun multiverse thriller
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Dark Matter review – Joel Edgerton abducts himself in fun multiverse thriller

I feel as if I’ve been living in a parallel universe since about 2016. Everything intangible we depend on – democracy, the rule of law, policing by trust, yadda yadda yadda – is going terrifyingly wrong. Reality has become disorientating enough without the world of entertainment spinning me out into multiple universes too. But the multiverse is having a moment (or technically many moments), what with the Marvel Cinematic Universe providing such fertile and lucrative ground for its heroes and the Oscar-winning likes of Everything Everywhere All At Once or Constellation. I’ll throw Netflix’s 3 Body Problem in too, because a fictional past, present and future Earth in the same storyline feels close enough.

Now we have Blake Crouch’s nine-part adaptation of his own book of the same name, Dark Matter. Physics professor Jason Dessen (Joel Edgerton) – hereafter known as Jason 1 – is leading a quiet life teaching then coming home each night to his loving wife, Daniela (Jennifer Connelly), and engaging teenage son Charlie (Oakes Fegley). If there is a flicker behind his eyes when his friend and college contemporary Ryan (Jimmi Simpson) wins a prestigious physics prize, well, we’ve all had moments of wondering about the road not taken, have we not.

It turns out that if you’re a physics genius, you don’t have to wonder. You can find out. So it is that Jason 1 is kidnapped and drugged by Jason 2 (Edgerton also), the version of himself that dedicated his life to science, became rich and famous, and secretly developed a way of hopping across universes to substitute himself for Jason 1 so he could enjoy all the blessings of family life and leave his other self apparently amnesiac in Jason 2’s world.

From there, two very enjoyable storylines unfold. One is a domestic thriller, as Jason 2 tries to avoid being unmasked as an impostor by looking up the dinner party guests he is supposed to have known for years and working out how to parent responsibly.

The other is the science-fiction fun, as Jason 1 gradually deduces what has happened and sets out like a hi-tech Odysseus to journey through the multiverse to get home to Daniela 1 (even though Daniela 2, who is single in her universe, is quite the temptation to stay).

Jason 1 is accompanied by Jason 2’s partner Amanda (Alice Braga), a psychiatrist who has prepped previous time-travelling subjects (we don’t know how well she did, as they haven’t managed to return). She displays an impressive willingness to step outside her professional box and into the quantum superpositioning cube Jason 1 abandoned in its early stages but which Jason 2 went on to perfect, and to ingest the pretty much untested psychoactive compounds necessary to see and choose all available universes.

Crouch and Edgerton do a fine job of making the Jasons distinct from each other yet recognisably related – two people who have evolved from the same source. This allows questions about identity, nature v nurture and whether good angels can drive the bad out to be much more intriguing than if we were simply presented with hero and villain.

Alas, we viewers exist in a universe where the advice to writers that’s popularly attributed to William Faulkner – “Kill all your darlings” – is largely ignored. Crouch has made a few improvements to character arcs and closed a few loopholes from his page-turner of a book, but he has also stretched a propulsive plot that kept the physics accessible to more than nine hours that make you feel every minute. There is a lot of wheelspinning and longueurs that make you wish it was either a six-parter or perhaps a really good, tight four. Nine is a universe away from what it can bear.

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Source: theguardian.com