The Walt Disney Company is the type of movie studio to make any of their properties into feature films, even amusement park rides and attractions. It first started with the 1997 made-for-TV movie Tower of Terror starring Steve Guttenberg and a young Kirsten Dunst and climaxed with the gigantic success of the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie in 2003. The most recent Disneyland attraction to hit the big screen is Tomorrowland, director Brad Bird’s follow up to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and screenwriter Damon Lindelof’s latest hack job.
There are far too many questions and not enough answers to make the experience worth it, but enough about Lost, let’s talk about Tomorrowland, which is a big ol’ hot mess! Within the film’s opening minutes, it’s clear that it has no sense of direction and narrative, as its two protagonists Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) argue about how to start telling the story. Now I’m sure this is supposed to come off as charming, but you just get the impression that Tomorrowland is already at odds with itself, or maybe the two creative forces behind the movie are just unclear which approach is best. But because of it’s uneven narrative and approach, it takes entirely too long for the movie to get started or going and what we’re left with is jumbled amount of scenes and action set pieces that don’t really go together or work.
Tomorrowland follows Frank, an inventor who was once starry eyed and ambitious, but the constant weight of failure has left him grizzled and alone. He journeys to Tomorrowland as a child, while a special robotic recruiter named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) is tasked with bringing young and bright people to a secret dimension where they can flourish and innovate for the sake of a brighter future. She later recruits Casey, a teenager who believes that science and technology can save the world. Frank was exiled from Tomorrowland for inventing a device that accidently will bring doom and destruction to the world, while Casey was brought to the magical land of science with the hopes to fix the problems of Tomorrowland.
The movie suffers from the worst kind of storytelling that we see far too often in Hollywood blockbusters these days and it’s unfortunately the kind of storytelling Damon Lindelof made famous in Lost, Prometheus, and Star Trek Into Darkness. It’s the plot device that brings its characters to point A, then point B, then point C, and then back to point A again, which makes going to point B and point C just pointless. It’s almost like what Michael Bay does with action, but with plot points and expository dialogue instead. Just throw as much of it at the audience and somehow a movie will come together. We’ve seen such story telling in the Transformers movies, The Amazing Spider-Man movies, and the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Nothing in the movie makes sense and once we try to figure out what’s going on, we’re off to the next plot point or action set piece and hopefully bright colors and celebrity cameos will distract us enough from noticing the flaws and strings. Tomorrowland’s characters are all too consumed with asking questions to each other as a way of exposition and to tell the audience about the world the movie inhabits. It’s a technique that’s fine for TV because the format is episodic in nature, but for a movie, which needs to follow and unfold organically with a solid structure.
The film’s direction also seems to be at odds, while Brad Bird has an inability to balance anything in Tomorrowland. The subject matter seems too fantastical to buy as a live-action film and during its first act, I thought the story would be better suited as animation. However, as the movie unfolded, I just thought it shouldn’t have been made at all. While there’s loads of imagination behind its production design, almost nothing about Tomorrowland’s story or characters are clear.
The acting is also ho-hum with nothing too impressive from George Clooney and Britt Robertson, as Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof let them down with its material. It’s strange because when we meet George Clooney’s character, he’s a child who forms a friendship with Raffey Cassidy’s automaton Athena, who is also, ostensibly, a child. As the movie unfolds, their friendship seems to be turning somewhat romantic until Frank is banned from Tomorrowland. When the two meet again, Frank is much older and looks like George Clooney and Athena still looks like a child because robots don’t age. It seems that there’s a hint of unrequited love between Frank and Athena, which comes off as super creepy because George Clooney is 54 years old, while Raffey Cassidy is... well... considerably younger. It doesn’t come off as a father and daughter relationship, which I’m sure was how it was written in the script, but rather, again, unrequited love instead. Now I know George Clooney’s love interests in movies are getting younger and younger, but yesh, this is just unpleasant and uncomfortable to watch on the big screen.
Sadly, Tomorrowland is not the next film-franchise-based-on-a-ride powerhouse Disney and audiences are hoping for, but rather it’s part of a line of disappointing ones such as The Haunted Mansion, Mission To Mars, and The Country Bears (remember that one?). Brad Bird needs better material, while Damon Lindelof needs to figure out a new way to write a screenplay because Tomorrowland caters to his worst tendencies: it’s dense, self-important, and doesn’t add up to much.