Movies are often categorized as good, bad, or somewhere in between. Using those descriptions is the easiest way to help someone decide if they should spend $12 and two hours of their time in a movie theater. Then there are movies like Tomorrowland – just good enough to be a disappointment.
Tomorrowland opens with a young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson), a boy genius at the 1964 World Fair destined to prove his jet propulsion pack worka. After getting his invention shot down, he’s introduced to a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy). Athena gives Frank a pin that magically transports him to a futuristic world, Tomorrowland, that’s filled technology right out of a sc-fi fantasy story. Imagine if Disneyland was designed by Steve Jobs, that’s Tomorrowland.
In present day, we meet Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) who spends her evenings, like a Bond villain, dressed in all black riding a motorcycle. Instead of secret spy missions, Casey is busy breaking into government property at Cape Canaveral to sabotage equipment that’s there to demolish the launching pads. Sure Casey’s last name is Newton and she loves science, but part of her motivation is because her NASA engineer dad (Tim McGraw) will be out of a job once the launch pads are gone.
When Casey goes back to destroy more bulldozers, she is promptly arrested. During her release, she’s given a pin along with her personal items and it’s just like the one Frank got in 1964. When she touches it, she’s transported to Tomorrowland. Although Casey can visually see Tomorrowland, she’s still physically on Earth. After a few hilarious falls and bumps, Casey goes to a big field, touches the pin, and begins exploring the futuristic landscape. Before she can finish her exploration, the time limit on the pin runs out.
The search for another pin introduces Casey to Athena and an older Frank Walker (George Clooney), and some very bad androids. Casey must make here way to Tomorrowland because they built something they shouldn’t have and Casey may be the only one to fix it.
The 140 character groans I’ve seen on Twitter let me know I enjoyed the movie more than most. Let’s start with what didn’t work…
For starters, the film’s long opening and drawn out closing are more time fillers than actual story. Tomorrowland is a 2hr 10 min movie that could’ve easily been slashed down to 100 minutes. It’s a much tighter film if they open with Casey’s story and fill in the Frank back story once Casey gets to his house. As for the ending, it was every cliché from every action movie where the protagonist has to stop a machine before something bad happens. The same ticking clock scenario Clooney’s character pokes fun of during the opening scene is the same trope they use to drag the movie out.
Why Casey is special is never really explained. Every character proclaiming Casey is “special” just plants the idea in the audience’s head that’s she’s an important character in the movie. That’s the only reason. It’s a throwback to Damon Lindelof’s “Walt is special” nonsense on LOST. We never learned why he was special and Lindelof passed Walt’s ambiguous special skills onto Casey.
My friend Jason Roestel asked me if I could explain who Hugh Laurie’s character was. I couldn’t. Seriously. I tried and I didn’t know where to start. It’s never clear exactly who he is or what he does. It wouldn’t be a problem if he didn’t play a major part in the film’s third act.
The nerd is me was annoyed at the “thing” that needs fixing. It’s literally a mash-up of two devices from other movies. Saying what movies would spoil a major plot point, but you’ll figure out what two movies once you see it. All the cool inventive technology on display and the big MacGuffin is the most unoriginal thing in the film. There’s zero reason for that.
I know i just dragged the story through the mud, but Tomorrowland is very entertaining when it’s working. The adventure Casey goes on, albeit predictable, is a lot of fun. Like Nicolas Cage and his crew in the National Treasure series, Casey & Co. using clues left by scientist and monuments to escape was more enjoyable than it should’ve been. The film needed more adventures on Earth. More clues by the world’s best and brightest. More futuristic gadgets. All of the cool action stuff happens on Earth. Sadly, once the film reaches Tomorrowland it loses steam.
This isn’t even in Clooney’s Top 20 performances, but he’s such a professional that all his scenes seem effortless. This is a film he could’ve sleepwalked through but he was committed to all the comedy and emotion in the script. Raffey Cassidy steals the show as Athena. She’s fantastic onscreen as is the film’s best character. Cassidy has the calm demeanor of a seasoned actor during the film’s thoughtful scenes and still pulls off the silly physical humor during comedic moments.
The action sequences and special effects are top notch. The effects are nothing mind blowing, but they’re engaging enough to keep you glued to the screen. I didn’t expect any less from director Brad Bird. There’s a great sequence at Frank’s house where you can see why Bird is one of Hollywood’s most sought after directors. The shots on Tomorrowland are shot beautifully. There’s a great scene in the film’s opening where a falling young Frank goes passes through a break in the clouds and there’s a wonderful silent shot of Tomorrowland’s hi-tech skyline.
This is the second movie in 2015 (along with Jupiter Ascending) that not only felt like it was mishandled, but had a rich story that may have been better served as a TV series. Having Tomorrowland switch back and forth from the 1960’s to the present day would make for an interesting show.
For a film called Tomorrowland, the movie isn’t about Tomorrowland. It’s unclear what the movie is actually about. Family? Purpose? Global Warming? Fixing the future? High Amusement Park prices? Who knows. There’s not enough direction in the story to say what is about. There’s so much wasted motion it the story, it almost derails the whole film. Despite it’s failings, I found it to be an enjoyable time at the movies. I definitely would’ve loved it more if I was between 7-10 years old. With some extra editing and a few tweaks to the story, Tomorrowland could’ve been the surprise hit of the summer.