That Brad Bird is a great director is not up for debate. The Iron Giant is rightly considered a classic, and The Incredibles is one of the better films in Pixar’s catalog. I just never really gotten into one of his films when it came out to really bond with him (the first of his movies I saw in theaters beating out the much better Persepolis for the Best Animated Oscar) didn’t help.
So when I heard Disney had decided to assign him the thankless task of trying to make the Pirates of the Caribbean lightning strike again, I was interested, but nervous, especially when I heard that infamously subpar screenwriter Damon Lindleof was working alongside him. So it was with only a little trepidation that I approached Tomorrowland.
The plot is a little wonky so you’re gonna have to bear with me for a minute. Okay so, back at the 1964 World’s Fair a kid named Frank Walker tries to enter a jet pack but gets disqualified by David Nix (Hugh Laurie) on account of it…well not working. But he catches the eye of Nix’s companion Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who gives him a mysterious pin and invites him to follow her and Nix as they leave. He does and finds himself in…well what the 50s thought the future would look like, which they call Tomorrowland.
50 years later, Frank has aged into George Clooney while Athena has not aged at all and is still going about giving people the same mysterious pins. This time she chooses Casey (Britt Robertson), after witnessing her protesting the shutting down of the space program via monkey wrenching (look it up).
After some twists and turns, plus an encounter with some robots who want to kill Casey for having the pin, Casey and Athena meet up and Casey is sent to meet Frank, in order to try and convince him to take her to Tomorrowland. Frank initially refuses, but changes his mind when he sees that Casey’s presence alters his calculations indicating when the world will end.
Tomorrowland is a movie that has a lot of potential and some fascinating thematic underpinnings, but doesn’t know how to handle either. I get what it’s going for, a sincere call for scientific advancement and optimism, but the message is so muddled and the film to haphazardly put together that the message winds up getting squashed.
Like Age of Ultron and Jupiter Ascending, Tomorrowland has some fairly major issues with structure. The first act, excluding the opening flashback and a pointless and flow breaking framing device, moves at a reasonably good clip. Then the second act hits and the pacing goes straight to hell.
The second act of this movie is unbearably long, dragging on for easily 2/3rds of the film. In keeping with Lindleof’s worst instincts, the movie gets bogged down for way too long with exposition about stuff that doesn’t matter or that I just plain didn’t care about. Meanwhile, extremely important stuff goes completely unexplained (the film posits that Casey is extremely important to saving the world, but never explains how, and the only thing she seems to do to help reduce the chances of the world ending is…be optimistic) and the second act drags on and on.
The second act of this movie keeps going for so long that by the time it’s over, almost the entirety of the third act (goal setting, buildup, lowest point, rising action and climax) has to take place in the same action beat. The film then speeds into its denouement so fast that I think I got whiplash from the tone shift.
That level of failure on such a basic level could be enough to sink any movie, but it’s far from the movie’s only problem. For example, while the surprise about why Athena hasn’t aged at all in 50 years is really obvious from the outset, the majority of her interaction with adult Frank (IE Clooney) amounts to ‘Exes who still have feelings for each other,” which is just…incredibly weird.
Yes, I understand she’s not actually a teenager in the context of the story and yes I get the metaphors at play (she’s a literal representation of his childhood dreams that he needs to let go of in order to grow, etc. etc.) but it’s still extremely creepy that the majority of Clooney’s performance amounts to him pining after a 12 year old. I am frankly astonished that no one at any stage of production mentioned to Brad Bird how that was going to read on screen.
The entire movie reads like that, like it was sunk by a failure to think things through. Making the main antagonist of the film such a nebulous concept as cultural despair and lack of intellectual curiosity makes sense from a thematic point of view, but you can tell the movie is regretting it from the word go, and works itself in knots to give the movie a proper villain who can be beaten up, which is a problem because the person forced into that role doesn’t actually appear properly on screen until the movie is nearly over.
The movie is not without its charms. I still remain fond of George Clooney and he’s pretty good here. The visual of the 13 year old being the main participant in the action scenes is entertaining, even if both Kick Ass and Hanna did it better. I even theoretically like the message (most of it), but I just can’t bring myself to care about any of it. The only part that has any emotional resonance is the final scene, but at that point it’s so incredibly unearned that it feels cheap.
I first inferred from the fact that the trailers were working overtime to sell us the movie without telling us about the movie, that there might be something wrong with it. Still even I wasn’t prepped for how lopsided and poorly put together this movie is. Tomorrowland continues 2015’s pattern of disappointing big budget movie. So long as Fury Road is still playing, there’s basically no reason to go see Tomorrowland.
Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile and at least this time Lindelof isn’t ruining an Alien sequel.
– solidly directed action
– mostly good acting
– good special effects
– extremely poor pacing and structure
– weak script
– no dramatic engagement