While Tomorrowland addresses similar themes than Interstellar, with the thirst for discovery and new frontiers and heroines that are strong and independent, the movie is really its own thing. And what a great movie it is! I have to disagree with most critics out there that rate it “so-so” or “average”. Of course, everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion. But when a film is so positive, so full of creative ideas and most of all of dreams and hope, one has to admire such a movie and pardon its small failings. Because it’s not perfect, but what movie is?!
So, in order to praise its qualities and nitpick some of the things I saw in that movie, here are the Top 5 things I loved, as well as the Top 5 questions left unanswered (beware of spoilers!).
1. The Father / daughter relationship is awesome
I’m not sure if Brad Bird, or the two other writers Jeff Jensen or Damon Lindelof have daughters, but they really nailed the great witty-banter, connection, chemistry, and bond between Casey and her father. As I wrote in my article on Interstellar, it’s not every day that you see a great father/daughter movie (or book), and we’ve been lucky to see two in the last 8 months! I would argue that as Casey’s father, I would have been dead worried about her whereabouts, especially after the stint in prison, the behavior out of prison, and the voicemail she left saying she basically lied through her younger brother. Yet, her father trusts her enough to do the right thing. It takes a lot! In return, Casey is a dynamic, positive, “good wolf feeder”, who knows how to fix things – or destroy other things! – when need be.
2. The two lead actresses are amazing
Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy just knock it out of the park! Especially Raffey, who steals every scene she’s in! I have to say that I knew Britt from Under the Dome and Delivery Man, but I had never had the pleasure of watching Raffey act. And both just blew me away. Britt with the creativity, inventiveness and determination she gave Casey; Raffey with the character strength, will, and sheer enthusiasm and humanity, despite her “affliction”, because that’s almost how she portrayed it. The amazing Scott Mendelson over at Forbes has been praising the great female-led movies this summer has given us, but I must say that the two strong role models we got in Tomorrowland is just pure joy.
Indeed, not only are the actresses great, but the characters they portray are just unique. Casey has engineering skills that would make Alan Turing jealous, and Athena is strong, dedicated, and is willing to sacrifice herself for the boy she loves and the world she dreams of! What a great dynamic duo!
3. There were so many throwaway ideas
From the Time Bomb, to Spectacle, all the way through the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it atom sign on the T Badge that shows you that invention/innovation always is a double-edged sword, there were just so many things in that movie that it requires a second, third and fourth viewing, and that’s before you even buy the Blu-Ray! That’s probably what frustrated most critics, is that there are few dangling plot points and there are so many ideas that are quickly presented and then as quickly left unexplained that the viewer is left with too many questions. But that’s the beauty of creating a world and a mythology that you embrace: you can’t explain it all from the get-go, and if you’re left wanting for more, then it means that it’s done a good job. Remember your first comic book: you didn’t understand half of what was going on; and you loved it! Isn’t it great to want to know more about characters, their past, the inner working of such and such gadget, and most of all why each character does this and that? That’s the best part!
4. It doesn't tell us what he future is
The movie only gives us hints and glimpses at a possible future. Because it is our job to create the best future for our planet, but also the future we wish to see. Again, some critics bemoaned at the fact that we don’t know exactly what Tomorrowland is and how it’s structured. As if we should have gotten an org chart, a map, and a detailed ZIP code list!! It has to leave some room for our imagination, but also for room for our dream to fill up the rest! The future is something personal, and the more we yearn for something better, the harder we’ll work for it!
Moreover, what is very interesting about the vision of the future get a glimpse of is that it's not just a big sprawling urban city with tall skyscrapers and nothing else. It is also a beautiful field bathed in natural sunlight. This is an interesting vision of the future as most utopias tend to show only the city side. Most futures, especially the ones from the 50s and 60s that imagined what the just-born suburbs and megalopolis would look like in the next century used to focus on just one part of the world, one part of the future. By showing us what is around the city, Tomorrowland just us that it’s not just Tomorrowcity, but it’s Tomorrowland, i.e. a land, a country, with something more. And yet, it leaves so much space for the rest, that our imagination and dreams have to do the rest!
5. The movie gives us hope, makes us dream
Not only does the movie gives us hope about the future, but also about how dreamers can change the world. This is why my previous point is key, but the last one is the most important one. Yes, it sometimes uses a hammer to explain why dreamers can change things. But most of the time, it’s quite subtle about it, by using messages like the “jetpack will give dreams to those standing in the street watching a boy fly” bit. Hope, and dreams, are what made the Internet age and the Smartphone age a reality. Hope is what keeps us going even if the probably of failure is 100%. Hope is the little light in the storm that will guide us to better skies. Hope is what Tomorrowland hints at, with great characters and amazing scenery and idea. And I love it even more for that!
Now that I’ve shared my love for the movie, I do have to contend with some critics that it’s not a perfect movie. So, here is my Top 5 unanswered questions, which could be close to things I felt could have been a bit better:
1. Too many throwaways
The movie’s mythology was just too vast! Yes, it's great because it gives you the urge to check out the background online, making this a “multiplatform” experience. And yes I can’t wait to get Before Tomorrowland and read it. But come on! Teleportation from a TV station to get to the Eiffel Tower to get to Tomorrowland? All of that under 3 minutes? That’s a bit too much, even for my taste! You do have to answer some of the mysteries that you hint at! I know it's Damon Lindelof's trademark to leave untold amount of questions unanswered, but sometimes it's a tad frustrating! What's in the box?!?!
2. Frank Walker’s motivations are not clear
Why did Walker invent the Monitor? We know what it does and why Frank would use it. But why would he invent it in the first place? He was so smart at a young age that he was almost a compulsive inventor, but it’s still not clear from his motivations why he would invent the machine to see into the future.
3. It’s not clear what happened to all of Tomorrowland’s citizens
As Casey finally arrives in Tomorrowland, she realizes it’s now a deserted city. What happened to all the inventors, dreamers, and creators? It’s never clear if Nix threw them away because of his paranoia, or if they left because they couldn’t save the world, or because they actually tried to save the world on their own. We never find that out.
4. It’s not clear why the chasing animatronics are so violent
This is probably my biggest gripe in the movie, and why I haven’t brought my 6-year old daughter to see the movie: Why are the animatronics so violent throughout the whole movie, chasing Athena and her recruits, killing people left and right, especially the police, and yet Athena finally shows up in Tomorrowland they don’t do anything? I don’t know what bothered me most, the fact that those robots vaporized people so freely, or the fact that it was overviolent for a family movie – even if it was bloodless - or aimless once they find their target. Yes, it helped to create a ticking bomb and dire and dangerous situation. But still, the level of violence in the middle doesn’t match the tone nor the acceptance of Athena’s return.
5. If Frank and Casey want to save the world, why do they hide from it?
This is part of the confusion – at least to me – at the end of the movie: if Frank and Casey want to save the world, or let it be inspired to save itself, why do they remove themselves from it? I don’t understand why they would stay in Tomorrowland if the objective of Tomorrowland is to inspire inventors and dreamers to dream enough to save the world. Why remove yourself from the world if you want to make it a better place? This is what birthed the Monitor in the first place!
So, yes, those are small nitpicks. Those are not critics. This is a family film. It means that the children can love the whiz-bang and the thrills. And the parents can love the themes and questions asked. But most of all, it goes so fast that the film warrants repeat viewings, especially with your kids!