“Imagine a place where anything is possible.”
Directed by Brad Bird
Starring George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robinson and Raffey Cassidy
In 1963, young inventor Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) is brought to an incredible world of invention by a girl named Athena (Cassidy). Fifty years later Casey Newton (Robinson), a brilliant and irrepressibly optimistic young woman, is given a glimpse of that world, and sets out to find it, guided by Athena and enlisting the grudging assistance of the older Frank (Clooney).
Casey learns that the glimpse she was given was part of a never-issued invitation to show the marvels of Tomorrowland to the wider world, and that the ‘party’ was cancelled as a result of a thing that ought never to have been invented. Athena believes that Casey may be the key to undoing the damage that was caused, but first she and Frank must overcome their differences and bring Casey to Tomorrowland to confront its leader, David Nix (Laurie).
What’s wrong with it?
Much like Casey, the audience of Tomorrowland is offered a glimpse of a shining and wonderful future, only to have it wrenched away from them. It’s message is that you should dare to dream and never give up, but too often it falls into much the same nihilistic attitude that it criticises. By the time Nix is explaining that apocalypicism is the result of humanity buying into the prospect of global catastrophe rather than acting to change anything, it felt as if the film was pretty solidly coming down on the side of letting the world burn.
Similarly, for a film that is essentially about creation, it felt odd that the resolution of the central dilemma was conflict, death and destruction.
The civilian population of Tomorrowland apparently just vanishes until the bad machine is destroyed, then wander out to gaze astonished at the wreckage and the old man from outside, like Clooney is Peter Ustinov in Logan’s Run.
Frank still basically being in love with Athena, even though she still looked 13, was more than a little weird, although you can totally see how that would fuck up a young man’s puberty.
Athena’s super speed looks a lot like they just speeded up the film. Maybe its an homage to Disney’s old superhero movies (the ones that often starred the young Kurt Russell,) but it looks a little goofy.
Casey makes no reaction to a dude introducing himself as Hugo Gernsback. You fail nerd, Casey. You fail nerd forever.
Casey is the film’s main character, but the first quarter hour is Frank and his nihilism, which apparently survives the film more or less intact.
What’s right with it?
The casting on this bad boy is note perfect. Clooney does washed up former idealist like a boss, Robinson is suitably wide-eyed and hopeful without making you want to strangle her, Laurie is the thinking man’s misanthropic grump, and Raffey is awesome on two legs as the uncanny valley ninja robot child. I mean, I’m assuming they had some tiny gymnast to do a lot of the stunts, but still…
Oh, and a special shout out to the creepy lead robot MIB and his terrifying smile.
Most of the effects are beautiful, and the mid-game set piece where the Eiffel Tower splits open to launch a Tesla rocket is fucking awesome.
Speaking of Eiffel and Tesla, I was impressed that the ‘first four’ of the Plus Ultra group only included one American, and that the film acknowledged Edison as a credit-stealing swine. Okay, it was still Caucasian sausage fest, but there is also the ‘chosen few’ montage at the end, in which vanishingly few of the next generation of dreamers are white, and pretty much spot on half are women.
Does a film still pass the Bechdel test if one of the characters in the conversation is a robot, and therefore technically sexless? I think it probably does; she was still female gendered.
How bad is it really?
It’s a lot of fun, it’s just hella confused about what it’s trying to say. I think it wants its message to be ‘never give up’, but it skirts perilously close to both ‘people are idiots and we’re all doomed’ and ‘blindly forging ahead in the hope that it will all work out is the path to glory’.
Best bit (if such there is)?
There is the Eiffel Tower launch, although I also have a soft spot for Athena putting on a hat, waving a box of Oreos and artlessly claiming to be a girl scout selling cookies.
What’s up with…?
- The invitation pins? They induce a waking hallucination, in which the holder appears to be on a level plain, whatever their actual surroundings, thus constituting a massive health and safety hazard. These geniuses are really fucking stupid.
- The masses and masses of indescribably horrible violence perpetrated by the ‘heroes’? Most of it is just against robots, but there is no indication that the many guards they kill in the finale are anything but human and trying to prevent them setting off a bomb.
- The massive collateral damage on the self-destruct function of the robots? Indeed, the clean-up robots’ extreme sterilisation protocols? This ‘enlightened society’ is wicked careless of human lives.
Production values – Shiny, shiny, shiny. There are a few slightly clunky moments, but basically shiny. 4
Dialogue and performances – The dialogue is functional as much as anything, but the performances really make the film. 5
Plot and execution – Man alive, this film is confused about what it wants to say and who it wants to say it. The introductory section about Frank’s childhood really belongs as a flashback partway in, if this is a story about Casey, but if it’s a story about Casey, why is the bad guy Frank’s nemesis, and as he is why don’t we get to see more of their rivalry? And is hope the answer? Or persistence? Or bombs and sacrifice? Did they really want to say that the hope of the future is over-wise children willing to blow themselves up? 14
Randomness – Hugo Gernsback? There are some slightly ham-fisted Disney self-inserts (the robots are known by Disney’s term ‘audio-animatronic’ and the first entrance to Tomorrowland is through the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride at the World’s Fair.) 5
Waste of potential – Disney has produced better films based on its theme parks (Pirates of the Caribbean), but also worse (Haunted Mansion, most of the Pirates sequels.) The main sin of Tomorrowland in this respect is in itself showing signs that they could have done it better. 8