Movie Review: Tomorrowland
By Matthew Huntley
June 3, 2015
Had the actual Tomorrowland in Tomorrowland come across as fascinating to us as it does the movie’s characters, this would-be science fiction adventure might have worked. But as it is, there’s just something generic, empty and unfulfilling about the titular place. It’s not dark or unwholesome mind you, but just sort of flat, standard and ho-hum. In other words, it’s nothing special, and that’s probably because Tomorrowland, at least in the movie, is such a stereotypical-looking future city - it’s the kind we imagine whenever we picture futuristic utopias. We therefore feel like we’ve already seen it and our senses of awe and wonder get diluted.
In fact, maybe you have already seen the real Tomorrowland at either Disneyland or Disney World, which inspired the movie, and of course any real-life attraction would make its computer-generated, filmed version seem dull by comparison. But even if you haven’t, it’s still on the filmmakers to capture our attention with a wondrous and original universe, and unfortunately this is something they just don’t do.
What they also don’t do is tell a very thrilling or engaging story. Don’t get me wrong; a lot happens in Tomorrowland, but it’s all so clunky and patronizing that I found myself checking out as early as the one-quarter mark, which is never a good sign.
Not that I couldn’t get onboard with the movie’s intentions and positive, hopeful message. But the way everything rolls out proved surprisingly sluggish and inconsequential. I use the word “surprisingly” because the director and co-writer is Brad Bird, who, hitherto now, has never stepped wrong as a Hollywood filmmaker. Bird is the creative force behind the much (and deservedly) loved The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. To have those titles on one’s resume definitely says something, but it’d be wrong to not judge Tomorrowland on its own merits, of which there aren’t so many.
The story is essentially one long flashback as Frank Walker (George Clooney), a middle-aged genius inventor, and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), an adolescent science whiz and environmental activist (I’m sure it’s no accident her last name is Newton), recount how they met and came to the present moment. Frank tells us it all began in 1964, when, as a young, ambitious kid attending the World’s Fair in New York, he submitted his jetpack for review to the stuffy David Nix (Hugh Laurie). Frank humbly tells him everything about his invention works except that it doesn’t, well, fly, at least not yet, but he vows never to give up.
Frank’s determination catches the attention of Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a young girl about his age who gives him a pin with the letter “T” on it and tells him to follow her and Nix through the “It’s a Small World” ride. The pin grants Frank access to the alternate dimension of Tomorrowland, a progressive, technologically advanced society in which ideas and camaraderie flourish and bureaucracy and red tape are all but nonexistent. We’ll learn later on just what happened to Frank as he spent most of his childhood and adolescence inventing various gadgets in Tomorrowland, before he became a bitter, reclusive old man.
In the present day, Casey wants to make differences of her own by preserving science and the environment. She gets arrested trying to sabotage machines that would dismantle a NASA launch pad since, in her eyes, the machines are impeding future discovery and knowledge; plus her dad (Tim McGraw) is a NASA engineer. After she’s released, she discovers someone has secretly given her the same type of pin Athena gave Frank. When she touches it, it transports her to a simulated version of Tomorrowland and she’s immediately fascinated by all its technology, efficiency, kind people, etc. It sends her on a mission to find its origin and hopefully gain access to the real Tomorrowland.
Without giving away too much, the plot hinges on the movie’s villain, whom you’ll guess almost instantly, from destroying Tomorrowland and subjugating humans by keeping them under the guise that future catastrophic events, such as war, famine and global warming, are inevitable and therefore there’s no use in trying to change things for the better.
Like I said, a lot in happens in Tomorrowland, but it lacks the zippy, consistent and coherent energy Bird usually brings to the table. It feels weighed down by an overly convoluted plot and perfunctory action sequences, which include one too many chase and/or escape scenes involving Frank, Casey and Athena. Speaking of these characters, they are supposed to the be story’s heroes, but they just aren’t that likable or charismatic, probably because they spend most of the movie yelling and arguing with one another.
All this, along with its uninspired production design, made Tomorrowland an overwrought mess and an experience I felt I had to endure rather than enjoy. I can appreciate what it says about human beings not accepting the world’s problems as certain fate and instead doing our best to change what we think might happen. We would all be wise to hear this message, but I wouldn’t recommend Tomorrowland be the means through which we do. And I have a feeling once word-of-mouth about this lackluster movie makes its way through the modern communication channels, it won’t be.