*Spoilers follow throughout*
In the wake of the recent attacks in Paris I ended up stumbling upon a much needed wellspring of optimism and hope in Disney’s ‘TomorrowLand’. This is a movie I was casually interested in when it was in theaters early this last summer, but ‘Mad Max’ and others had garnered my attention and thus, it was missed. Oddly enough this timing worked well as I, personally, was looking towards more positively engaging pieces. While the film is nowhere near perfect, I love that a movie this big has a message this good.
Brad Bird’s second live-action outing gets a lot right, even if its overall execution misses a few beats. The direction, performances, and the film’s sense of awe and wonder all shine throughout earning solid praise for presenting inspiring ideas and sequences, while yet not quite going the extra mile in the end to tie everything together evenly. The problem may lay in the hands of screenwriter Damon Lindelof (Prometheus, World War Z, & Lost) as his previous works all seem to have similar issues. He tends to set up grandiose questions, and then never fully answers them. This is also the case in ‘Tomorrowland’. But let’s get back to the beginning first though.
The films three main leads are the exquisitally british Athena portrayed by Raffey Cassidy, Brittany Robertson’s curiously optimistic Casey Newton, and George Clooney’s grumpy yet lovable Frank Weller. Oh, and Hugh Laurie (Dr. House for the uninitiated) plays the monologue-requirement/cardboard thin villain, Mr. Nix. The cast is, arguably, where the film shines most. A lot of the film rides on the character of Casey Newton being swept along on a futuristic journey to save the world, and the film, from itself. She is the heart of the story as she gets a glimpse into Tomorrowland, at the hands of Athena. Casey is the type of character I wish we had more representation of in movies today. She is bright, optimistic, and she wasn’t handed a ‘romance’ laiden character arc. Eventually she’s tempted by curiosity to find a way back to the eponymous city, which ultimately leads her to Frank.
Frank is the epitome of cynicism when we catch up with him as Casey attempts to sway him into getting back to the science laden realm of Tomorrowland. Immediately these two actors bounce off of each other incredibly well and it is likely the reason, besides the quick pace that the film runs at, that we don’t pick up on overused bland plot movements. A few chase scenes and some grumpy scoffing later and the trio eventually end up in Paris to turn the Eiffel Tower into a launchpad for an incredibly old rocket that transcends dimensions. This is where the most fascinating idea is presented, that Edison, Tesla, and Jules Verne, among other great minds of their time, had worked in tandem to lay the foundations for Tomorrowland, a place where great minds could escape the trappings of everyday governance such as greed, politics, and bureacracy. I know this because the film went out of its way to let me know this. Remember that monologue requirement? The finale, unfortunately, is where the film unravels a bit.
Hugh Laurie’s Nix employs overly smiley robotic henchmen to pursue Casey and Athena in the second act of the film. These robot stalkers have reckless abandon when it comes to human lives as they have a bit of a dark sensibility about them, which was acceptable in the film as it added a sense of urgency to keep things chugging along, but the curious part is that once they finally reach Tomorrowland, Nix ditches the deadly task force for a sort of diplomatic villainy instead. Here’s where it gets clunky, almost as if the film was taking too much time to defend its own ambitions when really it should have been more concerned with winning the audience over by succeeding in those ambitions, not a lecture on why it is doing what it is doing. Simply do, or rather, take the advice from the beginning of the movie when a young Frank Weller showcases his Jetpack to a questionable Nix then, “Isn’t it enough to be inspired?”
Overall the film lands its most important hurdles, even if some of the flair gets in the way. One last thing to note on, there is a romance, of sorts, in the film. The bit of stumbling comes when the story asks audiences to believe a fully grown man is still attached to a childhood attraction in some ways, even though he hasn’t seen her in decades. It could have upended horribly but Clooney handled the material, as did everyone else involved, in a serious enough fashion that it ultimately paid off without being creepy. Kudos.
So, if you’re looking for something a little more optimistic than say another young adult dystopia, check out ‘Tomorrowland’ the message alone is worth it.
Final Score: 7/10