Tomorrowland

There are moments of wonder betrayed by a lack of substance.

It’s funny. I’ve really slowed down with reviews. This blog has been quiet, except for the obligatory reviews of huge movies that I love or hate (mostly love so far this year). Right now I’m endeavouring to write, in very short order, four reviews starting with this one. Of all the films to begin with, Tomorrowland is the least worth it. Because it’s been out for a while already, I’m sure most people know it came and went with nary a peep, let alone a bang or a whimper. And that’s because it’s as shallow and thin a movie to come out of the mess that is big budget filmmaking.

Tomorrowland‘s main problem is a core philosophical smarm that plays completely to the cheap seats while also betraying a certain ugliness in the world view of its creative heads, Damon Lindelof (writing) and Brad Bird (directing). Usually I wouldn’t go so far as to question the underpinning philosophy or psychology of filmmakers, but it’s tough when they make movies which wear those things on the sleeve, and seem to exist only to be mouthpieces for whatever talking points those creatives want we, the audience, to hear. In that sense, Tomorrowland is kind of preachy but it’s so muddled and half-assed about it that you may not even notice. It’s like r/showerthoughts: the movie.

Beyond that, there’s a failure to provide basic set ups and pay offs… which is a problem that plagues many “big” movies these days. In Tomorrowland‘s case, what we get is either shallow or very fucking weird. 

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The kids seem like the real story, but aren’t treated that way, which makes the movie feel like it’s trying to be its own sequel.

Casey Newton (Britt Robertson, who almost makes the movie worth it she’s that good) is a whiz kid who sabotages attempts to dismantle a NASA launch facility in her spare time. She has a dad who’s a NASA guy and a little brother who is a little brother, but neither of them are in the movie much. Casey is being watched by a strange little girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy… who is also funny and good). Athena slips her a pin with a big T on it and Casey soon realizes that it’s a sort of dimensional veil-lifter through which she can see a very futuristic looking city. It seems very Utopian, exactly (and purposefully) like the future world that everyone thought was going to happen back in the 50’s or 60’s. Casey, understandably, sees a place where people haven’t totally given up on cool shit like science, technology, and using them to build a better tomorrow. So she wants to go there!

Eventually she finds Frank Walker (George Clooney, as close to phoning it in as I’ve ever seen him) who is a bitter and disillusioned outcast from the city after he discovered that the world is going to end and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Nix (Hugh Laurie, mostly phoning it in) is the administrator of the city and thinks the best thing for its inhabitants to do is shut the dimensional doors and stay in their pocket dimension or whatever it is, enjoying their crazy high standard of living and super science. Because Casey’s hope and optimism are so great that they literally reshape reality, the equation upon which all this doomsday shit is based begins to fluctuate which wakes Frank up to the possibility that the bleak future can be averted. By this point, it’s almost 2/3 through the movie and the only glimpse we’ve gotten of the titular super city is the fucking visions Casey gets which turn out to be a recorded simulation for propaganda purposes.

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Why they cast Clooney only to misuse him so drastically is something I don’t get. He’s okay when he’s bantering with Casey, but he wears the grump and bitterness so poorly that it’s jarring.

When Frank was a kid, he met and fell in love with Athena, who is a kind of android designed to recruit “dreamers” and bring them to Tomorrowland. So it’s ultimately pretty exclusive to people that are considered “special” to a bunch of assholes who deem themselves the arbiters of “specialness”. That arrogance is the objectivist tinge that Bird’s projects have often been accused of bearing, and it’s full-on in Tomorrowland. This is what I meant by the ugliness of its philosophy, which is that only a few special people deserve the benefits and wonders of a place like Tomorrowland, and we’re all supposed to wish we were those people without ever stopping to think of how much better a world we’d have if the geniuses and captains of industry shared their goddamn spoils, most of which is taken from the sweat and tears of “lesser” people anyhow. If you played Bioshock, which criticizes this shit, then you know something about what Tomorrowland espouses.

Anyway, Frank literally has a jetpack just in case you weren’t 100% clear on the symbolism of the future that Tomorrowland is saying humans lost. Bird and Lindelof, through their characters, ask us all where it went wrong, when we stopped dreaming and trying and yada yada. It’s like what Cooper says in Interstellar only 10x more pretentious. It makes the movie an appeal to a new optimism, which it filters through NASA as is popular these days. Eventually, we get a pretty awesome speech from Nix about how fucked people are because we refuse to care about the massive challenges and perils we’ve created for ourselves. We just ignore them. Some of it’s true, honestly, but it rings like cynicism when the movie also pretends to have the solution, a solution that is as trite as trite gets.

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The robots are kind of fun, but ultimately it’s unclear why anything is happening half the time.

For… reasons… there are safeguards in place in the world to keep people out of Tomorrowland. These take the form of doppleganger robots with funny looking ray guns and gross incompetence as part of their programming package. It’s kind of fun to watch Athena, who is 4 feet tall and weighs 80 pounds, kick the living shit out of them. But ultimately, it’s all meaningless because the movie takes forever to clarify why these robots are doing all this mayhem and who the villain even is. Nix is supposed to be the villain, I guess.

Speaking of Athena, and getting back to the weird story with Frank… it becomes clear at a certain point that Clooney is playing Frank as having never gotten over Athena. They trade bitter repartee like two old lovers meeting up again with unhealed wounds. It’s fucked up to see this with the 50-something Clooney and a 12 or 13 year old girl. Some have said there’s a paedophile vibe here, and it’s difficult to deny. Realistically, it’s a bad idea to allow (as a director) such a key relationship to be shaded with romantic overtones. Even if we acknowledge details like Athena not being human and so on, such literal interpretation of the material totally ignores the all-important context and it’s the context (that this is a movie and we live in the world where it’s a movie) that makes this so goddamn bizarre.

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OHAI meaningless robot fight!

The stuff when Frank is a kid, and Athena recruits him from the world’s fair even though Nix, her “father” doesn’t approve… that stuff really works. Had this been a movie about a kid falling in love with a robot and finding out that the utopian city is really kind of dystopian… well, I don’t like to do that thing where I’m critical of something for not being another thing. That said, these elements are in the movie in the form of flashbacks, and that means it’s sort of fair game to talk about why it doesn’t work or undermines the broader work as a whole. With most of Tomorrowland being about Casey, all the pertinent details of what the place is and what is at stake are told to us in some of the clunkiest exposition this side of SYFY Original Movie. Because the city is abandoned by the movie for most of its running time, we never understand it or why we should care about it beyond the obvious and odious issues of its exclusivity and exceptionalism. When Frank returns, the place is desolate and empty and I must have missed the part where they explained, if they even did, why that was.

To sum it up, Tomorrowland is just half-baked. Even if the movie’s structure weren’t such a mess that it seems like its own sequel (kid Frank being Movie 1 with Casey’s story being Movie 2), none of the ideas or characters or relationships really work with such a lack of commitment to them. I’m not sure if this part is so much on Bird and Lindelof, as it’s definitely possible (if not likely) that Disney pulled the same insecure shit here as they did with John Carter. Who knows. I’m not sure that Tomorrowland feels compromised or cut up the way some movies do, as there’s just too much weird shit and too much Brad Bird in this for that to explain the issues I have with it. I doubt there was ever a version of this movie where the entitled assholes of Tomorrowland, which comes to include Frank and Casey, ever bothered to reveal themselves to the world and share their wonders with it. Instead, they send more creepy robot kids to recruit more exceptional kids who they will turn into objectivists without ethical or political controls. It’s like Andrew Ryan’s origin story. It’s a Randian wet dream. And it’s a shitty fucking ending in which it’s clear that no one has learned anything.

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