Brad Bird Fails To Take Flight With Tomorrowland [Review]

Tomorrowland George Clooney

It took about two seconds for Tomorrowland to fall flat on its face. The movie opens with Old Man Clooney (his character’s name is Frank Walker, but he’s Old Man Clooney to me) bickering with young ‘n’ peppy Casey (Britt Robertson) about the best way to tell their story to a yet-unspecified audience. Old Man C-Dawg is gloom and doom. Casey is an optimist and a dreamer. Which worldview will reign supreme?

Minor spoilers follow.

Within its very first scene, Tomorrowland commits a cardinal storytelling sin: It nukes it stakes. For all the ominous cutaways we get to a countdown clock, we know that nothing that happens for the rest of the movie can be too bad, if Casey and the Cloons are standing here having a good-natured banterfest about it. Sure, this is a Disney movie, so the happy ending is pretty much assumed. But removing all suspense, all tension, by telling us in the first scene that we basically have nothing to worry about? Why would you do that?!

“Why would you do that?!,” as it turns out, would be a common refrain as I watched the rest of the film.

  • Wait until 3/4 of the movie is over to reveal what its central conflict is: Why would you do that?!
  • Have the motivation of your antagonist–Governor Nix, played by Hugh Laurie–be completely and utterly nonsensical to the point that an extended villain monologue clears absolutely nothing up: Why would you do that?!
  • Have weird romantic subtext between Old Many Clooney and a character who is, for all intents and purposes, a prepubescent girl: Why would you do that?!

Co-writer Damon Lindelof (Lost, Star Trek Into Darkness, Prometheus), who has made a career out of disappointing geeks, has struck again with this meandering, lumbering mess of a film. The plot makes no sense. I won’t tell you what it is because it would be spoilery, but also because if I think about it too much, my head will start hurting.

Old Man Clooney, playing a one-time optimist and adventurer who’s become bitter and jaded about the future of the world, was completely miscast. Cast an actual old damn man! Characterization-wise, Casey pretty much boils down to “peppy” and nothing more. The story is propelled by the lazy writing technique of characters not communicating about things that they would, in the real world, actually communicate about. It didn’t work in Jupiter Ascending, and it doesn’t work here.

I will say this about Tomorrowland: Despite getting really preachy about its core message–that we should strive to fix the world instead of resigning ourselves to being on a short track to a real-world dystopia–that core message is a very good one to have. I love pro-science movies, and this one has its heart in the right place. Unfortunately, that heart is surrounded by the body of a soulless studio film. Everything is disingenuous. Tomorrowland wants to get credit for saying things without actually saying things. For an example, look no further than the final scene, a virtual “It’s a Small World After All” montage of various people of various races from around the world. “Look at how progressive we are! Look how much we appreciate diversity!,” says Tomorrowland, a movie with one person of color in its entire cast.

But, because this movie is all about positivity! and we can change the world!, and because I’m still on Team Brad Bird, I will note that there were some things about Tomorrowland I did like:

  • The main character is a female tech genius, so that’s cool.
  • The retro futuristic clothes in the Tomorrowland scenes are amazing, and I want all of them.
  • Hugh Laurie wears jodhpurs! Possibly my favorite part of the film.
  • Hugh Laurie says things. Also good.

And, most importantly:

  • I talk a lot of crap about this movie, but if I’d watched it when I was a nine-year-old babygeek, I probably would have loved it. Its “you can change the world, so never lose the capacity to dream” message is very positive and inspirational and… well… Disney. It’s not presented in a way that approaches the zip code of nuanced (a friend referred to it as “a TED Talk presented by a 12 year old,” which about sums it up), but at least it actively subverts the awful, anti-science “Why must we play God?!” trope that plagues so much of sci-fi. If, 20-30 years from now, there are scientists walking around who count Tomorrowland among their formative childhood movies, I would not be surprised. And that’s great! As long as I don’t have to watch the movie again. Interstellar for me, thanks.

Oh, and one more:

  • Casey’s father is played by Tim McGraw. Yes, country music star Tim McGraw. Mr. Faith Hill. It’s not a good thing, actually. Or a bad thing. It’s fine. He’s fine. I just wanted to make sure you knew about it. Because it’s weird.
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