The future always seems to be simultaneously ominous and exciting with each passing day. With every hopeful possibility comes a potentially devastating outcome that could turn the world upside down. This anxiety and uncertainty we all feel and experience in our own personal lives goes beyond the day to day and reaches to the future existing inside the popular imagination. When did we trade the idea of the brighter future of Star Trek for the bleakness of Blade Runner, The Day After Tomorrow, and Dawn of the Dead? Incredibles director Brad Bird and Lost Co-Creator Damon Lindelof team up with Disney to explore these questions in hopes to turn our apocalypse sized frown back upside down. Is Disney’s ride to film adaption a successful experiment or should it send the house of mouse packing for the stone age?
Tomorrowland follows Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), the daughter of a former NASA engineer, who’s a little too sharp and feisty for her own good. After getting herself in over her head with the police, she discovers a mysterious pin that opens a gateway and gives her glimpses of a bright and prosperous future. She begins searching for answers and eventually runs into a little girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who is more than meets the eye. Her adventure eventually takes her to meet a brilliant but jaded inventor named Frank Walker (George Clooney). The two put their heads together and plot a return to Tomorrowland get answers to all of their question.
Tomorrowland kicks off with a strong thanks to a flashback giving us a glimpse into Frank’s past as a young and driven inventor convinced he would change the world. His journey into the spectacular utopia plays like a thrill ride from the very best of Indiana Jones. It sets up a great premise and promises something a little more clever than the average popcorn affair. It’s only once you get halfway through the movie when the story takes a few surprising turns and you quickly begin to realize that Tomorrowland is never going to live up to its awe inspiring opening act.
Instead of finding a fitting story to explore some of their core themes and ideas, Lindelof and Bird attempt to turn their ideology into the most expensive fable ever made. They have noble and ambitious goals to reinvigorate and inspire the next generation to stop all the doom and gloom of dark dystopian futures in favor of something more hopeful. It’s a very admirable and respectable pursuit they set out to accomplish, but good intentions are tarnished by lazy storytelling and a message delivered about as gracefully as a Friday after school special.
The movie is built around the idea that our society has gotten lazy and come to terms with the fact that it’s going to destroy itself. There’s even a point in the movie when the pseudo bad guy (well played by Hugh Laurie) claims people are content with watching the world burn via books, movies, and video games. It’s in this very monologue that our mustache-less villain decides to further bash us over the head with the themes the movie practically shouts at us over and over again. Despite having a surprising amount of spectacle, the climax ends with an overly long monologue attempting to explain a totally nonsensical shortcut the story takes in order to make everything feel designed. It’s boring, uninteresting, and robs the movie of any whimsey it had going for it.
Tomorrowland may be a fundamentally broken movie, but it still delivers tear worthy moments of beauty as our characters explore one of the most inventive utopias we’ve seen on the big screen in years. Jetpack flights, flying cars, and some of the most elaborate swimming you’ll ever see make for the coolest stuff you’ll see in theaters this year. George Clooney is as watchable as always and Brad Bird still knows how to direct action like no other in Hollywood.
Tomorrowland isn’t without bright spots, but it fails to accomplish the very thing it set out to do in changing the way we think about the future. Instead of guiding the audience toward certain reasonable conclusions, Lindelof/Bird turn the generally likable characters into giant megaphones designed to shout the moral of the story to the top of their lungs. The movie turns its morals into a painfully flawed rhetoric even the widest of audiences won’t fail to smell out. If you’re not a Disney enthusiast or already eagerly waiting in line to purchase your ticket, Tomorrowland is a film better left to the box office of yesteryear.