Tomorrowland is Disney’s latest film and it’s directed by Brad Bird, the man behind animated hit The Incredibles and the stellar Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Add the charismatic and always-on-his-game George Clooney to the mix, and you have quite a few names attached that would bode well for any film. Coupled with the fact that the trailers didn’t give anything away and only hinted at a fantastic sci-fi movie with gorgeous visuals and a nifty gadget, one would expect the results to be good at the very least, with potential for greatness. Unfortunately Tomorrowland isn’t great and not even good: it’s a mess of a movie that isn’t sure what audience it’s aiming for, resulting in baffling tonal shifts and a fragmented narrative.
The premise of the film is this: Britt Robertson’s Casey Newton finds a pin that shows her the utopian future of a place called Tommorowland and she sets out to discover what this place is and why this peculiar object came into her possession. On her journey she meets Raffey Cassidy’s Athena and Clooney’s grizzled Frank Walker, who both have the answers Casey is looking for. However: they also know what danger now awaits them. As far as premises go, this isn’t a particularly original one, but it also isn’t bad by any means: Tomorrowland‘s MacGuffin is intriguing and the glimpses it shows both the film’s protagonist and the audience are both wonderful and alluring. This is where the movie shines: Bird and team have created a slick, wondrous and gorgeous place that sparks the imagination and elevates the Disney film for short periods of time. The design and effect are awe-inspiring and because of it, whenever Tomorrowland shows you its namesake, you’re in good hands.
As sleek as its visuals and cinematography are though, as clunky is the storytelling. The movie is full of ideas and it wants you to know: Tomorrowland frequently slows to a crawl to have the characters discuss the film’s ideas and the third act even features a grand monologue that beats you over the head with the themes and the movie’s central message. Even worse is the film’s epilogue that’s so sugary sweet and so overtly politically correct, that you can’t help but start feeling nauseous. Which tells you the movie’s biggest flaw: Tomorrowland doesn’t know whether it wants to pander to kids or to adults, resulting in scenes that are too grim and violent for many a children’s film, and scenes that are too fluffy and cartoony for the grown-up crowd. There’s one scene in particular featuring both an overacting Keegan Michael-Kay and Kathryn Hahn that illustrates this problem adequately: the moment panders to the youngest of viewers with slapstick humor and silly costumes, only to then result in a shoot-out and action scene that could appear quite scary and tense to those same viewers. This constant flipping between serious and cartoony, dark and ridiculously light, aimed at kids and then aimed at adults, makes watching Tomorrowland a downright schizophrenic experience. It never gets the balance right, doesn’t even bother, and just fires whatever it wants at you. You’ll laugh, but not for the right reasons.
While the acting is all over the map, the leads aren’t the problem here: George Clooney adds a human element to a film that’s over-the-top most of the time and he manages to ground the film in some sort of reality. It’s his character you will feel the most sympathy for, and his arc gets quite emotional down the line. Britt Robertson, who basically portrays a live-action cartoon character, is fine, handling the more comedic moments with ease and finesse, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for the serious moments: the extent to which she is overacting doesn’t mash with how much she needs to dial back when she tries to sell the dialogue that’s supposed be poignant, which makes her character fall flat as long as Tomorrowland is not racing toward the finish line. No, who is most impressive aside from Clooney, is the young Raffey Cassidy: she showcases a tremendous range, portraying quite a complicated character who also has to spout most of Tomorrowland‘s exposition. The fact that Cassidy pulls you in whenever she is on screen and goes toe to toe with a seasoned actor like George Clooney, shows you what a talent this young actress is. It’d be surprising if we don’t hear more from her soon. Hugh Laurie, finally, doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but does the best with whatever he gets and humanizes a character that could have easily been a one-note pantomime villain. All the acting in the world can’t save a movie with writing this bad and a tone this confused, though.
Tomorrowland is nice to look at and features a few good performances, but falters because its storytelling, pace and attitude are all over the place. So much so it kills the movie. 4/10