Walt Disney Pictures
Directed by Brad Bird
Produced by Brad Bird/Damon Lindelof/Jeffrey Chernov
Screenplay by Damon Lindelof/Brad Bird
Story by Damon Lindelof/Brad Bird/Jeff Jensen
Despite my curmudgeonly demeanor, at heart I’m really a soft-as-a-marshmallow optimist. Really. I believe that Good always triumphs over Evil. That most people are good at heart and will lend a helping hand when they can. I depend on the kindness of strangers. I believe that the sun will come out tomorrow. I bet my bottom dollar that tomorrow there will be sun.
That’s why I’m really not much of a fan of dystopian science fiction. It kinda makes me sad that young people especially positively wallow in books and movies that depict the future as a pretty shitty place to live. And I think that as I get older, I want to believe more and more that mankind has a great and glorious future not only on this planet but in the far flung galaxies that I still believe we’ll explore. That’s why I was looking forward to TOMORROWLAND as it looked to be a science fiction movie throwback to an earlier time of hope and optimism that Science would make our world a paradise (It’s 2015…where the hell are my moon cities, jetpacks and flying cars, dammit?) and enrich our lives in every way imaginable.
There’s a part in the movie when disillusioned super genius Frank Walker (George Clooney) rages at Athena (Raffey Cassidy) that she did not fulfill the promise she made when she brought him to the city of Tomorrowland. Mr. Clooney could be speaking for me as well because TOMORROWLAND the movie certainly did not deliver on the promise that the trailers made to me.
Frank once lived in Tomorrowland, a futuristic city inhabiting another dimension. As a boy he invented a jetpack and eagerly brought it to the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, NY to show it off to David Nix (Hugh Laurie) Nix is unimpressed but Athena, a young girl of surprising intelligence and maturity sees his potential and grants Frank access to Tomorrowland. Frank is later on banished from Tomorrowland and grows up mean, surly and resentful. But he still manages to monitor events in Tomorrowland. Events that may mean the end of the world.
Athena re-enters his life, still looking like a young girl and bringing along Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) who in her own way may just be as mega-brilliant as Frank. Athena assures Frank that if they can get back to Tomorrowland, Casey might be able to prevent the end of the world. That’s if they can survive the attacks of killer robots sent after them by Nix who has engineered natural disasters, environmental catastrophes and implanted bad hoodoo in the minds of everybody on Earth to bring about the end of the world. Don’t ask why. The movie never bothers to explain and I’m not gonna do the screenwriters job for them and try to bail them out with extrapolating one.
Okay, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first so I can end this review on a positive note. My major beef with the movie? That we spend so little time in Tomorrowland itself. There are two magical scenes that tease and tantalize. One is with Frank as a boy (Thomas Robinson) using his jetpack to fly over Tomorrowland and in that scene Brad Bird manages to evoke the same feeling I get when I look at the covers of 1950s science fiction magazines. The other scene is where Casey is briefly transported to Tomorrowland and explores the city. That scene also tickled my sense of wonder. Especially the swimming pools.
But except for those two scenes and near the end of the movie we never learn a lot about Tomorrowland itself. We’re constantly told how Tomorrowland is populated by inventors, scientists, artists, technologists and dreamers who are all working together to create the future. But we never see any of them or what they’re working on. And how did a guy with a head full of bad wiring like Nix wind up in charge, anyway?
Brad Bird’s direction really disappointed me as I know for a fact the man can direct a movie. He directed “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” which I consider to be the best of the “Mission Impossible” movies and he directed one of the best superhero movies ever made; “The Incredibles.” But TOMORROWLAND is devoid of any real energy or suspense. The movie and the characters just wander around doing things and while some of it is very exciting stuff, yes, it just doesn’t have a feel of urgency or that any of it matters.
What else? The ending feels very out of tone with the rest of the movie. It’s as if Brad Bird and his co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof felt that like every other summer movie, they needed a big explosion to finish things off. And speaking of the writing, it leaves out so much that would go a long way to explaining Tomorrowland and the characters of Frank and Nix. We never do find out why Frank was exiled from Tomorrowland and Nix acts pretty much like a James Bond villain in that once he’s got the good guys under his thumb he explains his entire evil scheme to them.
Now onto the good: George Clooney is is usually charming self. I dunno…it’s impossible for me to dislike Clooney in anything he does because he’s got such an earnestness behind what he’s doing on screen that I’m sucked in. It’s always welcome to see Hugh Laurie do anything on screen and he does the best he can with such a thin character. I don’t blame him, I blame the screenplay.
The acting honors go to the young ladies, especially Raffey Cassidy who somehow manages to be both unnerving and endearing at the same time. She acquits herself equally well in action scenes such as when she takes on a pair of hipster killer robots that run a science fiction memorabilia shop as well in more emotional scenes with Frank where they have to resolve issues from when Frank was a boy and fell in love with her, not knowing her secret then.
Britt Robertson plays Casey as spunky, nervy, brainy and downright fun. The two young actresses have a wonderful chemistry and whenever they’re on screen together, TOMORROWLAND snaps, crackles and pops.
So should you see TOMORROWLAND? While I appreciated the marvelous special effects which evoke the spirit of 1950s science fiction and the movie’s message of optimism, hope and scientific exploration, it’s continually beating us over the head with that message and it gets in the way of the story. Wait for this to show up on Netflix or get the DVD.