Get ready for two hours of Space Mountain spinning around! Academy Award winner George Clooney, Hugh Laurie and Britt Robertson star in Tomorrowland.
Cast of Characters:
Frank Walker – George Clooney
David Nix – Hugh Laurie
Casey Newton – Britt Robertson
Athena – Raffey Cassidy
Eddie Newton – Tim McGraw
Ursula – Kathryn Hahn
Hugo – Keegan-Michael Key
Director – Brad Bird
Screenplay – Damon Lindelof & Brad Bird
Producer – Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird & Jeffrey Chernov
Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language
Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is a bright, overly optimistic teenage Floridian with a strong scientific curiosity. After learning learns that her NASA engineer father Eddie (Tim McGraw) is about to be laid off ’cause they’re tearing down the nearby launching pad at Cape Canaveral, she breaks into the joint but is arrested. When retrieving her belongings during her release, she notices a small pin marked with a “T” mixed in with the rest of her things, and upon touching the item she’s is instantly transported to the amazing futuristic world of Tomorrowland.
Yet Casey’s new find has drawn dangerous people who will do anything in order to take it from her, but she’s soon rescued by Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a young child claiming to be from the future. Athena leads her to the home of Frank Walker (George Clooney), a former brilliant young inventor turned jaded and cynical hermit. Together, the three of them must unlock the secrets of Tomorrowland, secrets that will determine the fate of the world.
Or something like that.
After a year already filled with sequels, remakes, shared cinematic universes and reboots, and we’re nowhere even done with them yet, it’s refreshing to finally get a summer blockbuster that’s an ambitious and original idea (though, to be fair, it is based on the Disney theme parks’ futuristic themed land).
It’s a shame, however, that it’s also the first big disappointment of 2015.
Make no mistake; this is a visually gorgeous film, and co-writer/director Brad Bird, who’s animated history includes directing two of the best Pixar films (The Incredibles and Ratatouille) before transitioning to live-action movies with one of the better Mission: Impossible flicks (Ghost Protocol), is a natural fit for this type of film. Bird has assembled a top notch team that includes Oscar-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda and production designer Scott Chambliss, and the imagination and creativity they put into the retro/futuristic world of Tomorrowland briefly pays off.
But that there’s the problem; Tomorrowland’s tease only briefly pays off. Most of the film takes place in present day Earth as Britt Robertson’s Casey journeys with Clooney’s Walker and Raffey Cassidy’s Athena to Tomorrowland, while fighting off the villains that are preventing them from getting there. The journey there would be half the fun, as Clark Griswold would say, if it wasn’t such a convoluted, preachy mess.
Written by Bird and Damon Lindelof, Tomorrowland unevenly wanders back and forth between its title setting and present day. There’s a lot going on here, and the ambition behind it is clear as day, but what isn’t so clear is the explanation behind it all. What exactly went wrong with Tomorrowland? What exactly are central antagonist Governor Nix’s motives? Why exactly is Casey humanity’s last hope? Who are these robots and what is their purpose, aside from easily murdering cops (they must’ve gotten lost during their protesting in New York)? This would all be great escapist fun if Bird and Lindelof’s attempts at explaining it all were at least halfway coherent, and didn’t close with a massive dosage of uber-preachiness on how crappy we humans are for ruining the Earth, a heavy-handed message beatdown I’m still nursing a headache over (although Hugh Laurie’s Nix does have one funny line about how we somehow managed to create twin epidemics of starvation and obesity).
It got to a point to where I was just waiting to hear someone yell in the background, “Cut! Who the hell let James Cameron on the set?!”
The cast members do what they can with the material. Clooney is fine here, dropping the trademark charm for the crotchety has-been inventor with a badass home security system. Britt Roberston comes dangerously close to expressing Casey’s optimism in irritating fashion, but reigns it in by adding just enough likeable spark. Raffey Cassidy is a pure natural scene-stealer here (although there’s an slightly romantic subtext between Athena and Frank that gets a little awkward), showing more than enough potential that could lead to bigger and, hopefully, better projects for her.
For sure, Tomorrowland is visually stunning, highly ambitious and benefits from a talented cast. But even with the solid performances and first-rate production efforts, Brad Bird’s first big misfire can’t escape from the clumsiness of its convoluted script. Coming from a studio that has found ways to entertain audiences of all ages for generations, it’s surprisingly disappointing that this film will manage to annoy adults with its overbearing preachiness and bore children with its meandering story.
I give Tomorrowland a C- (★★).
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