2 hours, 10 min
In “Tomorrowland,” director Brad Bird gives us something very few films do in this day and age: a vision of a hopeful future. As it plays out, the fact that no one sees the future as a hopeful place is a major theme of the film. Dystopian and apocalyptic versions of the world to come are the norm when it comes to the pop culture we consume with movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” (which I loved, by the way) and others. “Tomorrowland” refutes this vision, says, in fact, that it’s the problem, a sentiment that, despite my love for post-apocalyptic fiction, I can completely understand. The movie has issues, but I think many of the critics that are currently trashing it are doing so out of a misplaced defensiveness. For me, I can hold two ideas in my head at the same time. “Mad Max” asks me to horde all the fuel I can and try not to get crushed by the speaker-car, and as long as I’m in the wasteland, that’s what I’ll do. “Tomorrowland” asks me to think positively and be pro-active and the future can be bright. I can do that too.
The story begins with Casey, the teen-aged genius daughter of a NASA engineer. Casey’s father, played well in a small role by Tim McGraw, is tasked with overseeing the dismantling of the Cape Canaveral launch site, after which he will be out of a job. The defunding of NASA is the epitome of a loss of hope and imagination, and Casey is having none of it. Sneaking out night after night to disrupt the shutdown process, eventually our heroine is arrested. When she makes bail, among her things is a mysterious pin which magically transports her to another world. It’s a shiny, beautiful place with every technology imaginable, and crowds of happy people doing amazing things.
Unfortunately it doesn’t last. Now Casey, with the help of her mysterious guide Athena, a twelve-year old girl who is not what she seems, must find a way to get back to Tomorrowland, whatever it takes. Athena takes Casey to the home of Frank Walker, plays grumpily by George Clooney, who, it turns out, spent quite a bit of time in the magical city before being unceremoniously expelled some thirty years previous. Now it’s up to the three of them to get back to Tomorrowland, save it, and maybe save the rest of us, as well.
There is a lot to like in “Tomorrowland.” Aside from the upbeat, generally positive and exciting tone, the characters are well written and have genuine chemistry. Clooney is great, though this movie isn’t much of a stretch of him. More exciting are Britt Robertson as Casey and young Raffey Cassidy as Athena.
Both of these young ladies show a remarkable amount of charisma and turn in excellent performances, although I can’t say this film is really about deep acting as much as it is an adventure film. In several excellent action set pieces, one featuring a squad of robots infiltrating a house, Bird proves he is more than capable of constructing and executing solid action. I enjoyed just about everything “Tomorrowland” had to offer.
The problem comes when you consider just how much that actually is. The message, tone, and individual set pieces of the movie all work very well, but put together it’s a little slight. All the action takes place over the course of just over twenty-four hours, not counting flash-backs, and this requires the characters to meet, come to terms with an incredible reality, and then save the world. No matter how charismatic they are, this stretches plausibility.
I feel like Bird and screenwriter Damon Lindelof, who you know from “Prometheus” and “Lost” had some really neat ideas, but end up rushing them on screen. Hugh Laurie, the villainous Governor Nix, has a great speech near the end of the film – it’s pointed, eloquent, and directly aimed at the American public. It’s the crux of the film, but the scene not well served by the breakneck speed at which the rest of the plot screeches to the finish line. The filmmakers have great stuff to offer – just need to slow down and let us savor it.
“Tomorrowland” is both better and frustratingly less than I hoped. Seeing the advertising material underwhelmed me, but once I realized what Bird was really getting at with this film, I got excited. Unfortunately, the plot doesn’t quite live up to the ideas, but maybe ideas are enough. Grade: B
“Tomorrowland” is rated PG for action and sci-fi violence.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.