If you've been following my posts since the end of last year, you'll probably be pretty surprised by my star rating for Tomorrowland, considering that it was featured on my ten most anticipated films of the year. In that brief entry, I surmised that based on the talent involved and the amount of information on the story we were given (or lack thereof), it could either be a massive success or a major disappointment. Honestly, we went into our showing with pretty moderate expectations, but hoping that the lackluster critical reception would prove unwarranted once we'd had a chance to see it for ourselves. I had a lot of faith in director Brad Bird, who was responsible for some of the best animated films ever made (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and The Iron Giant) as well as 2011's surprise hit, Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol. He was even courted for the job of directing this year's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which he turned down due to the already daunting workload of Tomorrowland. After seeing this film, however, I'm actually relieved he decided to let J.J. Abrams take over my most beloved franchise.
Tomorrowland begins with a flash-back, told intermittently by Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) tells of the connection each of our protagonists have with the titular futuristic city. As a child, Frank was an aspiring inventor when the World's Fair came to New York in 1964, and with the help of his new friend, Athena (Raffey Cassidy), he is able to prove that his jet-pack does indeed work. Then from Casey's perspective, we hear how her father is being laid off as the NASA launch site in Cape Canaveral where he works is being decommissioned. She sneaks onto the site every evening and disables the machines that are supposed to be dismantling the launch pad. However, she eventually gets caught in the act and is arrested for a day until her disappointed father posts her bail. Along with her personal effects, Casey is surprised to see a mysterious pin that magically transports her to Tomorrowland, a utopian city where peace and creativity abound. The promise of a home in this fantastic place is enough to capture Casey's undying interest in returning there at any cost. But after a few near-death encounters with humanoid robots (yes, you read that right), Casey is eventually united with a middle-aged and gruff hermit, Frank. At first he is anything but cooperative with her plan to return to Tomorrowland, until Casey's presence seems to cause his calculations of earth's certain doom to flicker, implying that with her help, our planet may have hope of survival after all...
That description might make this movie sound kind of interesting, and I would have to agree. This plot summary was more or less what I was expecting based on what I saw in the trailer, and I thought it was an intriguing set-up to a much larger story. Unfortunately, this set-up takes over an hour to accomplish, with bizarre and unnecessary diversions and elaborations that do nothing but extend the running length of this film. There are very few surprises in the first half of this movie (or really, throughout the entire movie), and the few moments of excitement we do get are numbed by the whiplash-inducing manner in which they're introduced. While it may be an easy target, given the amount of flack he's taken since his controversial series finale of TV's Lost, I'm going to blame most of the flaws I'm about to discuss on the screenplay by Damon Lindelof. While I kind of enjoyed Prometheus for what it was and tolerated parts of Cowboys & Aliens, I really haven't enjoyed much of Lindelof's work since he finished Lost. Of course, I did really enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness, though what I liked about it can probably be attributed more to J.J. Abrams than him.
Never is the writing more cringe-worthy than during the dialogue scenes, of which there are WAY too many! I don't know about you, but I've never heard an eight year-old boy speak to his sixteen year-old sister like a couple of grizzled adults sharing their distaste for the current woes of society. On a side note, why the heck is an eight year-old boy sharing a room with his sixteen year-old sister...? That house looks pretty big... but I digress. The point is, all of the characters seem to speak with the same voice, which is not only unrealistic, but incredibly monotonous for a movie audience. We want to see different types of people play off of each other, debate, quip, etc. Even Clooney plays a one-note sidekick that I never really warmed up to. As an audience, we want to see fun interactions with likeable people, not the cardboard cut-outs we're getting here. We never get to enjoy the characters or the story or even the location, however, as all Lindelof seems to care about is that his theme is driven home over, and over, and over, and over...
That brings me to what was perhaps the most annoying thing about Tomorrowland. This isn't a story about getting to a magical place where some fantastic adventure is going to happen. On the contrary, we spend about twenty minutes (maybe thirty, if you include flash-back scenes) in the location after which this movie was named. Despite being a PG movie, it's actually pretty violent and almost entirely devoid of fun, adventure, and humor; opting instead for nauseatingly repetitive preaching about how humans are bringing the apocalypse upon themselves. I went into this movie hoping for a fun escape with perhaps a few clever injections of social commentary that would demonstrate the theme they're attempting to get across. Instead, they prefer to just shove their political message down your throat, which always takes me right out of the movie, even if I do agree with the message. Why did they have to make everything so thuddingly obvious? Are they hoping to convert a bunch of kids to their point of view by making sure no part of their agenda goes unnoticed? Regardless of their intention, the result was a clunky, uninteresting message-movie that even felt like propaganda at times.
Anyway, I could go on forever about how much I hate it when screenwriters hijack a Hollywood film to push their political agenda (see my review of Snitch for more ranting about that), but instead let's focus on the actual movie we're given. Overall, there are a lot of aspects that actually work here. For example, I quite enjoyed the score by Michael Giacchino (Super 8, The Incredibles, Star Trek, etc.), and only wish it could have been paired with a more worthy film. It has that same childlike wonder that he brought to Super 8, and parts of it feel like it could be playing at Disneyland and no one would be any the wiser. The visuals are also quite well done, with the imagination of a futuristic city on full display whenever we're there. It's got an interesting blend of old-school depictions of advanced technology with a modern gloss that ends up working pretty well.
It's difficult to judge the actors' performances, given the crappy dialogue they were given to work with, but I feel like they all pretty much came to play. Britt Robertson showed her ability to carry a film, despite how underwritten her character actually was. It can be hard to separate her from past performances (like this scene from Dan in Real Life, for example), but I found myself liking her character for the most part. I've already complained a little bit about Clooney's unlikability (at least when his character is first introduced), but perhaps the weirdest part of this film is his unrequited love with an android named Athena, played by 12 year-old Raffey Cassidy. She does a fine job in the film, and despite her youth, she may deliver the best performance in the film... but it's definitely weird to see a 53 year-old Clooney cradling a little girl and more-or-less declaring his love for her. Obviously it's not meant to be taken as creepy as it can come across, but they probably should have never taken the script there in the first place.
In conclusion, Tomorrowland is one of the most disappointing films for me in recent memory, primarily because of the level of talent involved. I trusted pretty much everyone in this cast and crew, yet they gave us something completely unsatisfying and even boring at times. Brad Bird is better than that, and given the amount of money Disney invested in this movie, I thought for sure they'd know better than to try to give us something this unentertaining. There were moments when I actually considered just getting up and leaving the theater rather than continue to sit through it, which hardly ever happens. The first real misfire of the 2015 movie year (that I've seen so far, anyway), Tomorrowland gets a regretful two stars.
TOMORROWLAND is rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language