2015, PG, 130 mins.
2015, PG, 130 mins.
Britt Robertson as Casey Newton / George Clooney as Frank Walker / Thomas Robinson as Franck Walker Jeune / Hugh Laurie as David Nix / Raffey Cassidy as Athena / Kathryn Hahn as Ursula
Directed by Brad Bird / Written by Bird and Damon Lindelof
TOMORROWLAND is an absolute tour de force spectacle of bravura sights and sounds that’s in desperate search of a connective and meaningful narrative.
The film is the
long gestating dream pet project of Brad Bird, the former Disney animation
director that produced some of the finest animated films of the last few
decades in THE IRON GIANT, RATATOUILLE,
and THE INCREDIBLES, not to mention
being the chief architect of the best of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE films in GHOST
PROTOCOL (his live action debut).
There’s no doubt that TOMORROWLAND is visually ambitious,
frequently stunning to look at, and has a sort of nostalgic level of
optimism in its tone and spirit that seems all but lost on many nihilistic
contemporary films. This time and space traversing adventure fantasy is as
gorgeously designed and engineered as any large-scale film I’ve seen
lately, but its script, alas, is a disjointed and muddled mess at times.
ultimately too bad, because Bird is indeed a visionary craftsman that
has taken great pains to make a film here with fantastic energy and
unimpeachable inventiveness. There’s no doubt that, during many key individual moments,
TOMORROWLAND soars with an uncommon level of joyous exuberance and style,
but at a regretful detriment to basic storytelling cohesion.
When taken completely as a whole, Bird’s film is a bit unwieldy
and confusing in terms of its themes and – most specifically – in its
handling of the final act, which brings the entire enterprise to what
should have been a pressure cooker of a conclusion.
Instead of wowing us with startling plot revelations, TOMORROWLAND
listlessly underwhelms as it draws to a close.
In short, Bird has made a bountiful feast for the eyes that
doesn’t do as good of a job at engaging our minds.
The film has a
wonderful opening, featuring a flashback to the 1964 World’s Fair that
introduces us to young bright-eyed inventor Frank Walker. He thinks that
come up with a device that just might be a workable human jet pack…that
is if it actually worked. His
invention does not impress fellow inventor David Nix (Hugh Laurie), but
a young girl in his party named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) sees great promise
in Frank. She secretly gives
him a shiny pin with a “T” symbol on it and tells him to follow her
aboard the fair’s “It’s a Small World” ride (a clever wink-wink/nod to Disney). Frank, always
the wide-eyed dreamer, willfully follows Athena’s company, but when his
new pin is scanned while on the ride he’s immediately and magically
whisked away to a futuristic utopian cityscape known as Tomorrowland...a
place where the impossible seems possible. He’s
definitely not in Kansas anymore.
to the future and present day, we are then introduced to a remarkably
smart and assured young woman named Casey Newton (a spirited Britt
Robinson), whose father (Tim McCraw) works for NASA.
Casey’s dad is a brilliant engineer, but he’s about to get the
axe from his employers due to budget cuts.
This, of course, leaves Casey somewhat jaded, but she remains an
unendingly enthusiastic and hopeful gal, but her sassy optimism seems ill
placed in a world besieged by awful news on a daily basis.
She finds herself, much like young Frank decades earlier, being
gifted the same “T” pin that, to her amazement, instantaneously
transports her to Tomorrowland, but her trips are extremely short lived,
leaving her desperately yearning to discover more about the mysterious
city. Her interests become
peaked when Athena shows up – having oddly not aged a day since 1964 –
who points her in the direction of the now middle-aged Frank (George
Clooney), who’s now a disgruntled, introverted, and reclusive scientist
that has almost no hope for a better tomorrow, seeing as he was exiled
from Tomorrowland due to ideological differences with David Nix.
The remarkably cynical Frank, though, slowly begins to see Casey as
a positive agent of change, and helps her return to Tomorrowland using a
back door approach that he hopes will help stop an approaching apocalyptic
event on Earth.
TOMORROWLAND is a film that requires a viewing on the largest cinema
screen available to fully appreciate its imaginative variety of visual
delights. Bird space no
expense conceiving the whole alternate universe of his titular world with
as astounding level of unbridled creativity.
People travel on jetpacks and commuter trains that levitate on air,
giant robots lumber through the streets, improbably large
skyscrapers permeate the skies, and – in one remarkable instance –
people dive from one zero gravity swimming pool (all hanging in mid-air
overtop of the other) to the next. There’s
rarely a moment in TOMORROWLAND when you can’t sense Bird’s
unflappable passion for making his world a place that feels like the
stuff of childhood dreams; it’s
like the most exhilarating and fantastical amusement park ever created on
also a film that has a rather big heart that’s usually in the right the
place when required. Yet, there’s very little in the overall screenplay (written
by Bird and Damien Lindelof) that boldly stirs the intellect…at least
not as much as it thinks it does. Pacing
issues punctuate and hurt the film’s forward narrative momentum, and
when that’s not an issue we are given far too many sequences of
characters explaining the nature of overwhelmingly complicated conceits
regarding time travel, alternate universes, the nature of tachyons, and so
forth (great films show what they’re about and don’t slavishly
you what they’re about). Even
when the film does a relatively good job on introducing the enigmatic
world of Tomorrowland and leaves many questions about it unanswered, Bird
and Lindelof build towards a conclusion where the maniacal villain spends
a bit too much time pontificating on his master plan, which in turn
reveals all of the secrets of Tomorrowland and how it relates to a doomed
Earth. It’s ultimately
disappointing when a film like this uses vast technological filmmaking
resources to conjure up its magical world…and then does very little on a
pure story level to allow this world to pay off in a meaningful manner.
It’s kind of
amazing, in pure retrospect, how solid and grounded Clooney, Laurie and
Robertson are in the film considering the ostensibly over-the-top vibe of
the production. Robertson (in
her mid twenties in real life) does a thanklessly convincing job of
capturing the boundless and buoyant spirit of her teenage character on a
journey of discovery, while Clooney seems to be really enjoying himself
playing an unmitigated grump that has a proverbial change of heart without
it coming off as falsely sentimental (which is a hard performance feat to
pull off). Laurie is somewhat
saddled with a fairly one-note protagonist role that benefits greatly from
the subtle level of gravitas that he brings to it. Young Raffey Cassidy is one of the sublime highlights
TOMORROWLAND, having the tricky task of playing a character with a rather weird arc that
could have easily been mishandled by a less capable young actress.
an awfully hard film to hate.
Even when it stumbles and meanders around from one peculiar story
beat to the next you can’t help but get sucked into the vortex of
Bird’s overarching vision here. Yet,
for as enchanting as the film is to drink in and just look at,
TOMORROWLAND lacks…well…enchantment on a basic plot level.
It’s as if Bird and company had a vast toy box of riches to
explore and play around in, but had very little idea how to bring it all
together and conclude things with a suitably rewarding payoff.
There’s a sly – almost bordering on self-referential – scene in
the film during which Frank has grown tired of Casey’s incessant questions.
He grumpily declares to her “Must I explain everything to you?
Can’t you just be impressed and move on?”
That line is
ultimately telling of TOMORROWLAND’s main scripting foibles.