What A Bumpy Ride
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Tomorrowland pushes so hard for the endearment of optimism that it almost makes you fall in love with it. Then you realize that above all, it’s a soul-sucking symbolism of corporate synergy sponsored by Coke wrapped up in Randian elitism. It’s an entirely disappointing endeavor from director Brad Bird, whose Pixar canon includes The Incredibles and Ratatouille. His attempt at the latest Mission: Impossible gave that franchise an incredible boost, lifted Tom Cruise’s career, and gave Bird the live-action rubber stamp on his filmography. Bird’s name alone gave Tomorrowland the heft necessary to appear on multiple lists of “The Most Anticipated Movies of 2015”. George Clooney’s presence only helped and all of the trailers seemed to strike that perfect balance of excitement, yet not revealing any major plot points (I’m looking at you, Terminator: Genisys). Original fare, even scripts based on theme park rides, are seemingly rare to come by during the summer and putting all of that together had created a buzz for Tomorrowland that completely dies once you actually get to the titular location. None of the brilliance that was exhibited in Bird’s earlier films is displayed to any extent here, except in flashes where for a moment the film picks up some semblance of energy before fastidiously dropping it again. Tomorrowland in many ways is like the theme park ride that inspires its creation. You wait forever with wild anticipation and at the end of it you’re left wondering what exactly just happened and why you didn’t spend your time somewhere else.
The central thematic concept Bird is playing with throughout the film is something that he sees as lacking in modern-day sci-fi narratives and to a certain extent, he has a point. Apathy about the future has taken significant root within the imaginations of humanity, zapping all of the imagination from the future and replacing it with a grim darkness. Bird’s point of view stands out amidst the mass of sci-fi that reveals around the apocalypse and dystopia, films that imagine a bleak future that only seemingly only becomes more terrifying as time goes on. Perhaps Bird is right in that we were overdue for a story that doesn’t imagine a terrifying future but a bustling, creative one that can stand the test of time as proof of human ingenuity. It’s a testament to the power of irony that Tomorrowland never becomes what it sets out to be. The nobility of the vision is all sucked away into the damned ring, entrapped as if the script is determined to never let it escape and actually become something of its own. I’m all for lighter tones and visions of brighter futures because dark and depressing after a while can become unnecessarily suffocating but you can’t abandon any semblance of realistic storytelling just for the sake of a brighter future. You end up with a fairly maudlin present as a result.
The script shares duties between Bird, Jeffrey Chernov, and Damon Lindelof, the latter of who is responsible for the horrid scripts of Prometheus and Star Trek Into Darkness (which has aged terribly) and perhaps this film was something that would have benefited greatly from a singular vision. There’s simply too much chaos going around everywhere, as if the film is jumping around from place to place, pausing only to allow a character to take two swigs of Coke. The beginning is fine enough, starting at the 1964 New York World’s Fair where a young Frank presents a jet pack to an indifferent official, setting the journey of the future inventor in motion. Disappointed that his invention was received so poorly, he finds the company of an intriguing Athena, who gives him a pin and he travels into this other world. He lasts there briefly, however, before he is banished back to the present. That much of the movie makes sense but after that it jumbles about while still feeling that it was existing on somewhat solid ground. Then a young engineer named Casey Newton finds herself in the same world as young Frank. It is at that stage that the film crumbles apart entirely. The largest problem is that there isn’t a cohesive narrative to begin with and once you start taking some pieces of the film to try and make sense of it, the pieces simply don’t fit. A good part of that is because the characters are so poorly drawn they can’t hold the sketchy plot together to begin with, instead exposing the extreme hollowness that lies at Tomorrowland’s core.
George Clooney delivers a merely passable performance as Frank, who is given less character detail than the visuals depicted on screen. Hugh Laurie’s David Nix is a mere cipher of a villain, espousing naturally a forced British accent. For Nix, the characterization problem arises most significantly when the script hands him a villainous monologue that accidentally gives him the most rational material to work with. Listening to Nix, the audience can understandably pivot towards what this man is saying because it actually is fairly logical. The film, however, doubles down on proving that he is in fact the true villain, which has the hindsight effect of making everything the protagonists are doing look equivalently stupid. Britt Robertson does a decent job as Casey, but there simply isn’t enough here for her to do. The true standout here is Raffey Cassidy, whose Athena mysteriously never ages but somehow imbues more wisdom and insight than apparently any of the protagonists. The relationship especially between Frank and Athena starts off sweetly, but as he ages and she does not, it increasingly becomes extremely uncomfortable to watch.
The visuals are decent and in certain shots extravagant, but unlike the recent epic Mad Max: Fury Road, the visuals serve as distractions to the story rather than something that enhances the storytelling at hand. Even Bird’s direction at times comes off across as stinted and unfocused. But where Tomorrowland truly lost me and plummeted from being an okay film to a mediocre one is how strongly and confidently it betrays the message at its very core and the abhorrent message it ultimately sends. For a film that says the world can become a better place and lead to a brighter future, it espouses a simplistic view that is beyond childish. Basically, if everyone can think optimistically, things will be a-okay. Which in and itself is fairly odd because what the film ultimately ends up saying is that the ability to believe in an optimistic future isn’t universal. In what is a fairly apt comparison being made to Atlas Shrugged, Tomorrowland tries to rouse its audience with the message that the ability to believe only belongs to a certain class of intelligent, creative people (intelligence being relative to how strongly you believe in what the film is trying to say). And if you are amongst that select class, you get to lead everyone into the future that looks more like John Galt’s vision of a delusional utopia of genius than anything else. How’s that for optimism?
MPAA Rating: PG
Directed by: Brad Bird
Produced by: Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof, Jeffrey Chernov
Screenplay by: Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird
Story by: Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird, Jeff Jensen
Starring: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cinematography: Claudio Miranda
Edited by: Walter Murch
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios, Motion Pictures
Running Time: 130 minutes
Release Dates: May 8, 2015 (Disneyland premiere), May 22, 2015 (United States)
Image Courtesy: I Digital Times