by Brian Surber
Good intentions cannot make a film. Tomorrowland is a big, ambitious, and grand sci-fi spectacle. It has a big movie star, the most famous studio in the world behind it, a talented filmmaker, and an admirable idea. However, it is with a heavy heart that I report that Tomorrowland is also a clouded, weak, and empty disappointment. It’s rare to find a film with so much optimism end up feeling so barren. Tomorrowland was a polarizing journey.
The film starts are the 1964 World’s Fair with a sequence that is large and detailed enough to make you feel like a kid at the movies again. The camera work, set design, and circumstances are smooth and refreshingly earnest. The scene introduces us to Frank Walker who grows up to a very good-looking recluse inventor. The main bulk of the story involves Casey, a rebellious (but in a curious and good-natured way) teen, played with bright-eyed spunk by Britt Robertson. Casey is left a pin by the mysterious (and scene-stealing) Raffrey Cassidy. As Athena, Cassidy must play on multiple levels of emotion and history. She was given a complicated role and was more than competent in her portrayal. When Casey touches the pin she is taken to a fantastical world that she desperately wants to see. The circumstances of Tomorrowland and Casey and Frank’s adventures together I’ll leave out of this review, but I’ll discuss the mediocre revelations later.
As Frank, George Clooney gives us a performance and character that we don’t see from his very often. He isn’t suave or charming; he isn’t smooth or very nice (at first). Frank is a broken man, someone who has had the rug ripped from under him and now spends his days counting down. Clooney is having a great time here and it’s an interesting performance simply because it’s just a little over the top all the time. And as Casey, Robertson carries the film like a pro and provides a great energy. Also, Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn should play a married couple who bicker in all films from now on. Okay? Okay.
The script by Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird has so many things to say that the finished product is bogged down by the weight of it all; that, plus the fact that the ending explanation (performed with gusto by Hugh Laurie) feels so rushed and expository. It is so perplexing that a film with ideas this big seems to rush into an ending message, one that the entire film before it was moving towards. Robot fights get in the way of clear and concise messages and your movie is lost (that’s a pun for Lindelof fans). Tomorrowland is a film that sweeps you up but unfortunately lets you down.
Tomorrowland looks great. From set design to visual effects it’s a beauty. A sequence at the top of the Eifel Tower is especially exhilarating. The camera moves fluidly and playfully. This has the feel of a big budget live action film for kids. The kind I would watch over and over again on VHS and the kind that does not get made anymore. Director Brad Bird has amassed a stunning filmography (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and most of his directing choices here continue this reputation. The action sequences are coherent and the film moves at a brisk pace. The issue with Tomorrowland lies directly in the screenplay.
Tomorrowland has something wonderful to say. If this was a well made film this could very well have become an important film. But throughout the entire run time it seems to be stumbling over itself. There were scenes in Tomorrowland that filled me with excitement, that 8-year-old kind, and there are scenes that confuse or muddle its purpose. Everyone in the cast and crew will be fine (bring on The Incredibles 2, Bird!), the film industry will be fine, and Walt Disney Pictures will be fine (so make more original films). But Tomorrowland, like the fictional location itself, should have been so much more. You can’t help but admire the intentions, but that doesn’t make up for the execution.
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