In 1964, a young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) creates a prototype for a jetpack and takes it to the World's Fair. He puts his invention up for a contest, where he is immediately shot down by David Nix (Hugh Laurie). However, Athena (Rafey Cassidy) sees potential in Frank and tells him to follow her to Tomorrowland. Frank boards It's a Small World! and ends up being transported through some sort of portal to Tomorrowland thanks to a magic pin that Athena gave him. Nix accepts him into the futuristic utopia and everything is fine for a while. "But then it all went to hell...." says Frank, now a middle-aged inventor (played by George Clooney) living in exile from Tomorrowland.
After that brief prologue, we flash-forward to the present day, where ambitious young scientist Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is trying to stop the total destruction of a NASA platform. Although she bends the rules and gets into a lot of trouble, Casey has a fearless sense of hope that makes her a perfect fit to help enact Athena's master plan to save Tomorrowland. While being pursued by a group of relentless robots, Casey, Athena and Frank must find a way to get to the world of tomorrow and uncover the secrets behind the most reclusive society in the world.
To really enjoy this movie, you're going to have to buy into certain things. Back when Interstellar came out late last year, some people thought that the ending was preposterous and that the whole "power of love" theme was absurd. But I bought into it, loved the film and accepted everything that Nolan threw at me. With Tomorrowland, despite my best attempts, I struggled to accept some things. Maybe it's just that I'm a cold and cynical person, but when Casey made one hopeful statement and suddenly, Frank's doomsday clock dropped from 100% chance of certain death to 99.5%, I held back laughter. Much of Tomorrowland feels like something that a hippie from the 1960s would tell people if they let him give a speech- "Get rid of all that negativity, man, and it'll be totally far out."
That's not to say that Bird and Lindelof's message is inherently bad. It's good to think positive about things, but it's not the key to saving the world. And while I understand that Tomorrowland is a children's movie meant to make them optimistic about the future, I think that even some kids will find this movie to be a bit laborious. To fully get the message, these kids are going to have to make it through the whole movie first, and that might be a difficult task. Tomorrowland has great moments, strong performances and some fantastic setpieces, but man, this thing can be a slog to get through at times.
The fact that Tomorrowland is tonally catastrophic doesn't help either. Certain scenes have a level of maturity that is quite surprising, while others are goofy fun. For a film about how great optimism is, the third act is morally dark and quite heavy for a kids movie, and that could be a struggle for some parents. Tomorrowland asks big moral questions, but unlike a smarter movie like Ex Machina, it doesn't choose to leave those questions ambiguous. This isn't a movie that asks the audience to ponder its thematic implications after leaving the theater. It pretty much believes that it knows the answers and gives them to the audience without much thought. That was problematic for me.
I struggled with the pacing of this film as well. Tomorrowland moves in bursts, occasionally shooting forward at a very fast pace before staying stagnant for a while. It takes forever to actually get to Tomorrowland, and once we get there, there's not all that much to be engaged by. Tomorrowland sacrifices several things that could have potentially been interesting in favor of finding ways to convey its message. Make no mistake about it- Tomorrowland is a message movie and everything is centered around making sure that its message is pounded into the audience's skull.
As a piece of entertainment, Tomorrowland is flawed, but has some flourishes and touches that I really enjoyed. The film's visual palette is very much that of a Saturday morning serial film and I love that Bird continually channels that in every film that he does. The score by Michael Giacchino is brilliant and I'm a sucker for stuff inspired by 1950s sci-fi, so there were obviously some things that I found to enjoy. This movie really feels like a Close Encounters/Spielberg sci-fi film at times and that's a very high compliment.
The performances are very strong, and at times, the actors manage to carry the movie. Clooney gives Frank a world-weary quality that balances well with Robertson's bouncy, energetic performance as Casey. Tim McGraw and Hugh Laurie also do solid work, but the true star of this film is Rafey Cassidy. With a significant chunk of screen time and a big part, Cassidy could have been overwhelmed by the whole affair. But she was really up to the task here and I thought that she did a phenomenal job.
In all honesty, I don't exactly know how to feel about Tomorrowland. I know this review has seemed harsh, but I did enjoy much of this film. Bird constructed a half-decent sci-fi movie that is unfortunately undone by its sermonizing nature and its occasionally glacial pace. The cast is good, the visuals are great and I really liked what Bird was going for, but ultimately, I feel like he made the wrong movie. This is far from a bad film and there are some fantastic sequences, yet it just never comes together in the way that I wanted it to.
THE FINAL GRADE: B- (6.8/10)