Overview: A girl is given a pin that leads her on a journey with a cynical former boy genius and a childlike robot to a fantastic dimension that could save the human race from their own destruction. Walt Disney Pictures; 2015; Rated PG; 130 minutes.
To Hope: I went into Tomorrowland full of hope. I was ready to be astonished by something the trailers made look like a re-imagining of the pulp science-fiction magazines of old. And after Brad Bird pulled out all the stops with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, I had no reason to be leery. Then Brad Bird went and pulled an Andrew Stanton.
If you were like me, you might have wondered why Tomorrowland was so poorly marketed. Watching the film reveals the answer: there was no story to market. Tomorrowland is an hour and a half of prologue and mostly boring setup that consists of running from human looking robots, and then with a half hour to go, the movie decides to finally take us to Tomorrowland, explain what the stakes are, who the villain is, and what everything means in a giant expositional monologue. When the action of climax started and ended, I thought to myself, this can’t be it, we just started. But sure enough, that was it. Because Tomorrowland was co-written by Damon Lindelof, it’s filled with third act twists that I won’t spoil, but I will tell you they’re not interesting enough to excuse the majority of the movie for twiddling its thumbs, or for all the secrecy that’s surrounded the movie these past few years.
To Wonder: Britt Robertson’s Casey Newton is a bright spot in the film and she’s certainly a star in the making. Casey is full of youthful optimism and ingenuity. Unfortunately, the film spends most of its time having her ask questions that other characters refuse to answer. She’s driven by the optimism of seeing the world as a better place, one that can change from its ways of violence and climate damage. But allowing her optimism to stand on its own isn’t enough. Instead, the film has to repeatedly show us posters of post-apocalyptic movies, riots, and Orwellian lessons delivered by teachers in order to show us what a lack of optimism has cost us. It’s a film that’s practically screaming “this is an optimistic movie! See? See?” There’s an interesting meta-narrative within the film about how our obsession with dystopian futures and post-apocalyptic societies has led humanity to a self-fulfilling prophecy where we accept our negative end because we’re so accustomed to that narrative. But that overt text can’t exist on its own, it has to be spelled out in an overlong conversation between George Clooney and Hugh Laurie, who are both underutilized and given so little to work with that both feel like sketches of characters.
And yet for all of the film’s talk of optimism, wonderment, and a PG rating, Tomorrowland is jarringly violent and dismissive of human life. Clearly, I’ve got no issues with violence of death in movies, but when robots are being brutally decapitated and cops are being blasted into ashes, it works against the film’s central message and becomes an even greater distraction when these scenes are followed up with jokey lines. Add in a rather distressing Randian notion of utopia that ignores the complexities of society and you’ve got a film that neither works for children nor adults.
To Hang My Head: The visual designs are imaginative, but a number of the effects look surprisingly cheap for a movie with a $190 million price tag. And some of the plot concepts that back up these designs are equally imaginative, but the film whistles by them so quickly and casually that they’re never given a chance to matter. The film sags under the weight of a script that refused to cut any idea, regardless of what that meant for pacing, characterization, or theme. So many of these ideas never go anywhere and are never explained that it all ends up feeling like a rough, high-concept TV show pitch. Clooney’s Frank Walker tells Casey (and the audience by default) to “stop asking questions and just be amazed.” If only there was enough to hold onto to be amazed by.
As someone who has long admired Damon Lindelof despite his faults, I have to say that his script choices here don’t show any willingness to learn from past mistakes. It’s a shockingly disappointing effort (and this is coming from someone who likes Prometheus). Lindelof recently claimed that fanboys likely wouldn’t say they liked the movie because they’re too caught up in their own cynicism. But it isn’t the films’s optimism that will make them reject it. They’ll reject Tomorrowland because it’s naïve, tonally messy, and poorly constructed.
I didn’t leave the theater thinking of a better tomorrow. I left feeling drained, robbed, and ironically wishing I’d just seen Mad Max: Fury Road again. Never have jetpacks, robots, and alternate dimensions been so unimpressive.