*This review will also be published in The Spectator, the newspaper of Seattle University coming later this week. I will post a link when it is available.
Depending on who you ask the future is either a bleak, apocalyptic wasteland (Mad Max anyone?) or it is a shining, clean utopia where everything is pretty and science reigns. Tomorrowland plays with this idea, teases an inevitable apocalypse, and suggests that we can all change the future. These would be pretty intense themes for a Young Adult novel, but they are also found in Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, a movie that seems to be marketed for kids due to its PG rating and its connection with Disneyland. What makes Tomorrowland suffer the most is that it does not know exactly what it wants to be—a prophetic PSA that slaps you in the face a dozen times, or just your formulaic action movie directed towards younger audiences.
The world of Tomorrowland is brimming with innovation, ambition, and the realization of dreams. It tries to demonstrate this with a sense of curiosity—not a scene goes by in which a character does not ask a dozen questions. This seems to be the screenwriters only means of propelling the story forward by filling in little details that couldn’t be explained otherwise. Casey Newton (clever) is an optimistic rebel who wants to believe that something great is out there. She comes across a pin that transports her to Tomorrowland where her dreams become reality. After meeting Frank, a recluse inventor who has had experience with Tomorrowland, and Athena, a young automaton, they attempt to find a way there.
The biggest problem with Tomorrowland is that it sways far too dangerously between a PG Disney movie for kids and a PG-13 action film for teenagers. There are scenes that are awe-inspiring, full of beautiful visuals and retro set designs, but then there are moments where it devolves into a generic sci-fi kids movie with battles against robots, awkward one-liners, and a message that gets batted over your head so many times that you’re more likely to fulfill it because of its repetition and not because you actually care. It is about as subtle as a fart going off during the SAT.
One thing Tomorrowland gets right, for the most part, is its performances. George Clooney is fun as a crotchety, former boy-genius. His presence alone makes him the most enjoyable, though it feels at times like he was only brought in to add star-power and drive in older audiences. Britt Robertson (The Longest Ride) is a vibrant spirit on screen with a sense of charisma and purpose. She is brave with a caring soul that still has hopes for a bright future. Rounding off the trio is a somewhat newcomer in Raffey Cassidy who plays the young robot who is deceptively cute but effectively violent when necessary. She also enters her name into a growing list of ferocious women on screen this year, and she is only 13. Some of the younger actors fall flat, while other’s, like Hugh Laurie, have to contend with a flat script that is cheesier than gouda.
The story plods along at a decent pace inundated with sufficiently entertaining action scenes that feel a little out of place, some wonky special effects, and jokes that fall short of their mark. By the middle of the second act we aren’t really sure what the main threat to the world is, why robots are attacking the main characters, or what is so important about getting to Tomorrowland. When the big reveal comes, it feels as though it was tacked on at the last minute when the writers realized there was no motivation for the villain. This would be fine if it cleared things up, but it doesn’t.
Tomorrowland is a big, ambitious film about dreamers, optimists, and the future. But it is also a movie that gets bogged down by mediocre dialogue, nonsensical story elements, and severe case of identity crisis. It might be a spectacle for the eyes, but Tomorrowland will probably just inspire you to go to Disneyland rather than save the world, which I’m sure was all part of Disney’s plan.