Editor’s Note: Tomorrowland is currently out in wide theatrical release.
Tomorrowland is one of those movies that clings so tightly to the thin line between “good” and “meh” that it’s difficult to review, because each opinion is hedged with another. There is plenty of good and nothing explicitly “bad,” but none of it goes anywhere, so the audience just sits and waits for 130 minutes. And how am I supposed to review the act of sitting and waiting? As Roger Ebert once wrote, “good movies and bad movies dictate their own reviews. The ones in the middle are more difficult.”
There is plenty of good and nothing explicitly “bad,” but none of it goes anywhere.
Tomorrowland is all about that middle, which is very odd since it swings for the fences, hard, from the opening shot to the closing credits. Problem is, it’s so interested in the swing that it forgets what it’s aiming for. It’s all about the mounting of an idea, and by the end the filmmakers can’t seem to remember what the idea was supposed to be. Viewing the film is tantamount to unwittingly and unwillingly participating in a 130-minute waiting game. There is action, to be sure – and violence that must’ve just skated under the PG-13 wire. There is character development and charm, since the actors are wonderful from top to bottom. But the film continues to promise that it will all be in service to some grand secret that is teased, and then hinted at, and then suggested, and then implied…and then the movie ends.
Disney has kept a pretty tight wrap around concealing any plot details for this high-concept quasi-family thriller (“quasi” since the aforementioned violence smacks the audience with blunt force; my daughter described it as a horror movie for kids), but in essence that marketing strategy is the film’s biggest spoiler alert: Tomorrowland is a movie about concealing secrets. The big reveal is that there is no big reveal. I’m starting to feel like I’m talking in circles, but I swear it’s only due to the influence of the film I just saw.
George Clooney is Frank Walker, once a bright-eyed child inventor who stumbled upon the magical dimension referenced in the title, but now a grizzled, washed-up dude living isolated in a heavily-secured ranch. Britt Robertson is Casey, similarly bright-eyed but more of a scientific rabble-rouser than an inventor. “Tomorrowland” is revealed to her decades after Frank’s initial visit, though anyone with the shared experience is forever linked, Secret Society-style, via these Disney-tastic pins that function as the film’s insignia…and will no doubt be pilfered among eager pin traders at the Disney theme parks.
Expositionland might’ve been a better title for both the place and the film, since the film provides a new clue every two minutes.
I shouldn’t reveal much more regarding the wheres and whys of Tomorrowland, though I doubt I could even if I tried. Expositionland might’ve been a better title for both the place and the film, since the film provides a new clue every two minutes. The clues are intriguing, except that they never end, and in place of a revelation that kickstarts a dynamite third act, the screenplay detours for sentimentality, an anticlimax, and a well-meaning but ultimately stifled do-gooder message of channeling the good in all people and changing the world one person at a time. To me, this indicates that the filmmakers went so deep down their own creative rabbit hole that they eventually didn’t know how to lead the audience – or themselves – out of it. That’s unfortunate for director/co-writer Brad Bird, who has boundless imagination and does good work here, but his heretofore storytelling capability is surprisingly missing. Some of that could be attributed to co-writer Damon Lindelof, who, as one of the key contributors to the TV show Lost, evidently has charted a career consisting only of intriguing premises that go nowhere.
Clooney and Robertson are charming together, and they are aided by young British newcomer Raffey Cassidy, who, without giving too much away, is sort of the glue that binds the two lead characters together. And if I may take a moment to damn with faint praise, I was pleasantly surprised by how little the studio dictated transparent brand tie-ins…since lest we forget, this is a movie based on a section of a theme park. But Tomorrowland seems incomplete – it’s a film whose punchline was sucked into a black hole, never to be seen again.
Tomorrowland seems incomplete – it’s a film whose punchline was sucked into a black hole, never to be seen again.