Release Date: May 22nd, 2015 (UK & US)
Genre: Action; Adventure; Family
Starring: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Raffey Cassidy
We shouldn’t be surprised that Tomorrowland is a giant bouncing ball of alacrity. From Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles (the hint is in the title), comes a film packed with a positive punch. “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow,” we’re told at the very beginning via cheery song. Shortly thereafter, a young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) engages in conversation with Tomorrowland overseer David Nix (Hugh Laurie). Nix asks about the practicality of Walker’s jet pack creation. Walker, wide-eyed and all, replies: “Can’t it just be fun?”
Though it may not have been sufficiently clear from Disney’s muddled marketing campaign — one possible factor in a disappointing opening weekend financially — this is a film about incentive and inspiration, enjoyment and energy. Whereas evasive trailers have partly sold the piece as a sci-fi escape and partly as a family drama, the movie itself is far from confused. Tomorrowland is bright, and it knows it.
Starring Britt Robertson as the self-prescribed ultra-optimist Casey Newton (probably related to Isaac), the story follows her eventful journey as she searches high and low for a mysterious place called Tomorrowland. Accompanying her are recruiter Athena (Raffey Cassidy) and the now older, world-weary Frank (George Clooney). Casey is the human embodiment of the film’s joyful prerogative. Her school teachers drawl on about end of world scenarios — spouting warnings on everything from nuclear Armageddon to environmental degradation — but all Casey wants to know is how to fix these problems.
Just as the camera struggles to go more than a minute without whizzing towards a Hall of Invention or something of similar ilk, Casey can’t spend any significant length of time without exuding eagerness. She would be the perfect citizen of Tomorrowland, where everything is so big and bold. In Mad Max: Fury Road — which shares the same sticking-by-one’s-convictions mantra — vehicles are bolted on top of other vehicles. Here, we see skyscrapers double up to create super skyscrapers. Bird spends a long time worldbuilding, striving to convey a sense of wondrous momentum from the off. It is probably too long, especially when we spend so little of the two hours actually in Tomorrowland.
Robertson is charming and consistently watchable as our central character. Quite brilliantly, she manages to be sprightly but not sickening. Unlike in the television series Under the Dome, this is a much more assured performance from the actor (admittedly, her character in the former offers little in the way of depth). Young newcomer Raffey Cassidy is a victim of the hyped up and overly long sugary beginning, her verbiage a tad too sentimental. The talented teen increases in charm as the film progresses though, to the point where the screen significantly benefits from her presence.
Damon Lindelof’s screenplay avoids the politics and greed normally rife in the world we know. This lack of cynicism is actually quite refreshing, and the film shouldn’t be kicked for carrying a hopeful message. It should be saluted, really, for moulding its message of hope into a pertinent discussion about the state of humankind. At one point Casey exclaims, “It’s hard to have ideas and easy to give up!”, a statement epitomised by the film itself. Tomorrowland is more than just a surface level blockbuster. At its core, it boasts a perceptive idea about how we, humanity, have accepted and monetised our demise. Bird and Lindelof should have mined this concept further, but its inclusion is evidence that their script isn’t naive, nor ill-judged.
However, it can’t quite dodge plot holes. Terminator-ish humanoid robots show up occasionally wearing goofy smiles (obviously) and guided by a view to kill, though it’s never really apparent why. The existence of the film’s grandiose, hidden cityscape is also somewhat puzzling. Sure, it looks great and has some cool gravity defying roads, but what exactly is it? And where did it come from? Rather than answering these questions, Bird and Lindelof seem to be more transfixed by their attempts to include as many cinematic references as possible.
And who can blame them? There are so many fun touchstones: Baymax bubble suits are worn with jet packs as a safety precaution; attire-wise, the futuristic land resembles The Hunger Games’ unconventional Capitol style; visually, moments of inter-dimensional travel momentarily resemble David Bowman’s cosmological pilgrimage in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; and Charles Xavier’s Cerebro room gets an interactive Google Maps makeover. A Forbidden Planet-esque store that we enter midway through the piece is a treasure trove of movie geekdom.
Aside from his presence as part of an unnecessary narration tactic that materialises every so often, George Clooney is introduced to us with the sun beaming down behind him and illuminating half his face, probably because he is God. Frank has a grizzled beard and is a bit moody, but that’s as rebellious as it gets. He delivers a “son of a” but no “bitch”.
Frank’s downbeat personality is the story in a nutshell — someone once driven by promise who has presently accepted defeat, but can be saved. “Can’t you just be amazed and move on?” Frank muses when Casey persistently asks about his cool house gadgetry, and you sort of get the feeling that in lesser hands this would be the film speaking to its audience. Neither a baddie, nor a goody, Hugh Laurie’s David Nix is a misstep. The presidential figure is very thinly drawn, though the actor does deliver a really compelling speech towards the end summarising humanity’s passiveness.
Tomorrowland doesn’t throw the cat among the pigeons. The closest we get to edgy is a non-diegetic rock tune that accompanies Casey as she invades a NASA launch station while wearing a treasured NASA cap given to her by her NASA-employed father. The film tells the world that we have lost our way and that we can reclaim our rosy roots, but that we should strive to be even better than before. It is what it is and if you’re happy to spend a few hours riding a roller coaster of cerebral optimism, it is for you.
Images copyright (©): Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures