Tomorrowland is too ambitious. It has ideas too big for a standard summer popcorn flick. Give Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof for trying to tackle the world’s problems (and our perceptions of them) in the span of a mere two hour movie. Initially, the concepts coalescence into an exciting sci-fi “what if?” By the time we get the third act, however, the narrative burden becomes too much, turning an enjoyable entertainment experience into a series of sporadic pleasures. Even with its girl-friendly viewpoint, it can’t help but succumb to the big boys’ belief in eye candy and action.
The story centers around Frank Walker (George Clooney) and a curious teenager named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson). When he was a young boy, the former was fascinated by science. He even attended the 1964 World’s Fair to enter his homemade jetpack in the invention competition.
While he didn’t win, he did come in contact with the mysterious Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who offered him a special lapel pin. Soon, young Frank is whisked away to Tomorrowland, a place in a parallel universe where science and innovation rule. It’s what the world could be, if technology was free to develop without restriction.
Decades later, young Casey finds one of these pins among her belongings, and she becomes embroiled in a battle between the forces of good, who want to save the think tank oasis, and those determined to bring it down. With Frank and Athena’s help, they will take on Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie) and his robot army, hoping to save both worlds in the process.
If you take away the tweaks, if you remove the obvious kowtowing to the studio and other focus group grumblings, Tomorrowland is a very clever film. Thought provoking, detailed, and brimming with possibilities. It does a good job of channeling its high-mindedness into easily digestible bites. The kiddies still won’t get it, but that’s beside the point. Bird and Lindelof have bigger concerns and the fun gets bogged down because of it. We should be staring at things in wide-eyed wonder. Instead, we are often scratching our heads, trying to figure out just what is going on.
Now, understand that this is a movie about the mind as much as the shape of things to come. It’s about the application of intellect as much as the results, hope where only the opposite exists. Yes, we get angry androids, oversized security droids, future shock architecture, and enough multicultural diversity to make the PC police happy, but that’s not the real point. Tomorrowland takes the bumper sticker “Visualize World Peace” literally, using it as a catalyst against the anti-science movement plaguing our society. In essence, it wants us to consider the damage we do when we undermine research and development for the sake of staying the course.
On the other hand, Bird and Lindelof are clearly channeling the matinees of the ’50s and ’60s, offering ideas while keeping the adolescents, and their parents, happy. Nothing is too challenging, and everything is spun into the kind of homogenous whole that Disney is famous (and notorious) for. This is utopia as a theme park ride, and it’s fun, most of the time. When it’s not, it’s like waiting on line.
Performance-wise, everyone delivers. Clooney is as solid as ever, while Ms. Robertson is a sassy sidekick. The real scene stealer however is Raffey Cassidy as the ethereal Athena. While her lack of aging is a clue to her true identity, the heretofore unknown really embodies her character. She offers nary a false note, stealing the entire film away from her far more famous co-stars. Bird even gets the most out of his extended cameos. Both Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn impress in their minimal screen time and Trace Aktins is fine as Casey’s NASA engineer dad.
Still, Tomorrowland is not 100 percent successful. It’s like a bodybuilder struggling under a bit too much weight. When it works, it’s a true wonder. When it doesn’t, it barely dodges disappointment.