Release: Friday, May 22, 2015
Written by: Brad Bird; Damon Lindelof
Directed by: Brad Bird
The thing to remember about Tomorrowland is how easily it will be forgotten.
The rest of the summer season isn’t likely to spare much sympathy for those wishing this weren’t so. In a few short weeks Jurassic World is going to claw to pieces any memory of George Clooney starring alongside another former doctor (as seen on T.V.), the great Hugh Laurie. Remembering the escapism in Disney’s latest live-action flick after experiencing the upcoming fifth iteration of Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt will pretty much be mission: impossible. And do I even need to make a Terminator: Genisys pun? That film thus far isn’t looking like it’s even going to try to be good but it’s sure to find an audience that is going to remember the moment when Arnie delivered on his promise of being back.
Popularity notwithstanding, Brad Bird’s envisioning of an idealistic future won’t stick around for very long as it amounts to frustratingly little more than a spectacular visual experience. This land of tomorrow-ness . . . or whatever . . . looks magnificent in all of its shiny, Emerald City-esque grandeur. Actually it’s more than that. Tomorrowland is magnificent. Who wouldn’t want to go there — whoever could find it, that is?
Strangely enough, Tomorrowland‘s most glaring issue, its cluttered mess of a screenplay — the product of one too many collaborators it would seem — succeeds in arousing curiosity. Curiosity about what in the world is supposed to be going on. What this parallel universe is supposed to stand for; why Laurie couldn’t have been handed a more fleshed-out role. I’m getting a little ahead of myself, so it might be helpful to focus on the clutter for now, just to avoid a review filled with clutter.
Story opens with a narration by George Clooney’s present-day Frank Walker, a boy-genius inventor who became disenchanted with this semi-mythical metropolis having been exiled for some reason or other. Probably some bureaucratic explanation. Oh, yeah — that’s what it was. He invented a jet pack of some sort that had little practical use, as noted by David Nix (Laurie), Tomorrowland’s presiding jerky-jerk-face. The narration is part of a video recording involving him and someone else off screen. Frank continues explaining how he spends the next couple of decades as a hermit, denying his past and any connection to it. Despite all this serving as half the exposition required, there’s enough material already to warrant a full-length film on its own. But Frank isn’t the only relevant Tomorrowlander . . . (Tomorrowlandite? Tomorrowlandian?)
There is also Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), an intelligent and adventurous young girl, daughter of a NASA scientist who, naturally, has access to some pretty high-tech facilities and yet no sense of boundaries. When she’s arrested for poking around her father’s work place and subsequently released Casey finds herself in possession of a brightly colored pin — the kind that, when touched, transports that person to a place far removed from their current surroundings. Skepticism about what she’s experiencing soon is sidelined in favor of even more narrative expansion when a precocious young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) appears almost out of thin air. Her posh hairstyle and British accent suggest charm and sophistication, a stereotype Disney is still comfortable with in 2015. Athena’s initially quite the enigma, possessing a wealth of knowledge and wisdom someone her age couldn’t possibly have. Over time she trends away from mysterious and stops just short of a total annoyance.
Considering the quirks inherent with each of these intrepid explorers, we’re given such little depth and personality. Protagonist and antagonist alike dutifully adhere to the script, simultaneously forfeiting their right to creatively express themselves. It’s a little saddening knowing the House of Mouse refused to open its doors to creative writers on this particular project.
House Laurie is not quite as compelling without the guidance of some spectacular character development, though he is passable here. Clearly Clooney received a phone call one afternoon, urging him to clear some time in his schedule to up Tomorrowland‘s recognizable faces quota, because his character functions as a cardboard cutout of the typical adult jaded by a few sour life experiences. Granted, if I was told my ingenious inventions were an epic fail as a young boy I suppose I would pout too, but there’s no other mode Clooney gets to switch into.
The denouement isn’t exactly the bright light at the end of the tunnel, either. We spend a great deal of time building up to something; what we are lead to believe will be some kind of infiltration of an ill-defined utopia. At the very least we are expecting some great drama inside the halls of Nix’s . . . what, his lair? Do you call this tower a lair? Let’s call it a lair. Instead, it turns out Nix has been using his power to guard Tomorrowland from potential invaders (meaning all of us trapped in the real world, one that is perilously close to being annihilated from El Niño or something) and doesn’t care if his actions mean the deaths of millions. Sure, it’s the wrong position to take when faced with the choice of either saving mankind or letting it die out, but Nix is no sinister villain. The writing just doesn’t allow for anything other than a small bout of fisticuffs between Laurie and Clooney.
Bird manages to steer his film in a perpetually positive direction — Tomorrowland rarely stops to look back, opting instead to embrace the future, eager to find something better than what came before — and yet the end result leaves one completely indifferent to this world building. After these two hours, one ought not be blamed too much for wanting to live in the past, in a time before they were taken to a world that turned out to be built out of false promises and perhaps a few unfairly high expectations.
Recommendation: Best described as a family adventure for Friday night movie nights, Tomorrowland may look good but its mostly surface gloss. It doesn’t feature any stand-out performances, and yet the experience isn’t done a disservice because of average acting. The emphasis on optimism hardly rings hollow, but the communication method is woefully unmemorable, which is disappointing given its exciting marketing campaign prior to the release. Disney (and Brad Bird) can do better.
Running Time: 130 mins.
Quoted: “Every day is the opportunity for a better tomorrow.”
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