Science fiction movies, especially time travel movies, have long been a way to explore an uncertain future. Maybe the perspective focuses on the vagaries of romantic relationships, like in The Time Traveler’s Wife, or maybe there’s an attempt to undo mistakes and create a better future, like in Looper. Either way, the idea of someone coming from the future to interact with ordinary people remains tantalizing.
A mainstay of the genre is that the stories are usually told from the perspective of the oblivious people in the present who have their lives upended by a visitor. However, this 2021 movie does the opposite, throwing the time traveler’s life into chaos to compelling (and amusing) effect.
Captain Nova sounds like a Walmart bargain-bin knockoff of Captain Marvel, but there are no traces of the MCU here. This Dutch movie came to Netflix with no fanfare, but underneath its unassuming marketing is a gripping story about guilt, adventure, and the climate crisis.
The movie opens on a 37-year-old astronaut named Nova, who embarks on an ambitious project to travel back through a wormhole from her present of 2050 to 2025. While she makes it through with the help of her trusty robot companion, ADD, she discovers a side-effect of time travel: She’s now 12 again, the same age she was in 2025.
Still, Nova has a mission to complete. She’s armed with an innovative device — a weapon that slows a person’s perception of time, forcing them into slow-motion, and she finds an ally in a 15-year-old named Nas. Together, they hide from the authorities as they pursue Nova’s secret goal: Confronting an energy executive on the brink of drilling into the North Pole to capitalize on the natural resources, an act that dooms the world’s climate.
Meanwhile, the authorities are trying to track down the pilot of the strange UFO that landed in the woods. They find fingerprints in the ship, but they’re of different sizes. They track the smaller prints to 12-year-old Nova Kester... who’s obsessed with space but has no idea what’s in her future.
This may sound a bit like Netflix’s other recent time-travel release, The Adam Project, but here the two Novas never actually interact. Instead, the charismatic dynamic between Nova and Nas is the driving force. Nas’ attempt to kiss Nova is rejected because, hilariously, she’s far too old for him.
Captain Nova is a climate change movie, but unlike, say, Don’t Look Up, it never approaches the topic with smug preachiness. Instead, you realize the importance of these two kids taking on the corporate world by considering the context of our world, where young people are leading the fight against climate change. They’re more than just passionate kids — they’re future adults whose lives depend on choices made now. Nova provides both the perspective of an adult who’s seen the bleak future, and a child who’s full of optimism for what’s to come.
Like most time travel movies, the actions Nova takes in the past affect the future once she returns, but never in the way she intends. Just when you think the movie’s over, Nova is forced to return to the past one last time. The result is charming, funny, poignant, and worth your time.
Captain Nova is now streaming on Netflix.