Review: Tomorrowland

Finally getting around to watching this and it is a complicated one to discuss.

Casey Newton is a dreamer. An intelligent girl who sees the world around her floundering to reach its potential, when one fateful day she finds a pin badge that seemingly teleports her to a blissful utopian future of Earth. But the idyllic future of mankind isn’t simply a pin badge away, and she needs to bring her hope and optimism all the way through a journey of peril and discovery.

Director Brad Bird has made quite a challenging movie here, out of what was ultimately a concept for a theme park by Walt Disney in the 1950s, a film that directly confronts surprisingly political matters. World hunger, climate change, war, rich and poor divides, and many things that are currently being shunned by certain world leaders as a fiction. It is a bold movie with heady intentions, especially as a movie that was being considered as huge as the Pirates of the Caribbean films when it was released (another unique IP based around a theme park).
It isn’t hard to imagine that the film’s spark of ingenuity and world-changing motivations alienated audiences. Tomorrowland‘s budget was $190 million, and it made $209 million… that makes it a bigger disaster for Disney than the infamous John Carter.

Honestly, Tomorrowland does not deserve that much discredit (speaking as someone who didn’t hate John Carter either, but that film potentially lost out due to terrible marketing). It has some gutsy female leads and characters, who could and may have become idols for young audiences. Casey (Britt Robertson) is a bright and relatable girl who goes from stargazing to dodging lasers with believable levels of disbelief and levelheadedness. George Clooney and Hugh Laurie both feature too, and they look as though they are enjoying their roles and what their characters represent. Even young Raffey Cassidy, playing an incredibly important role and is regularly centre stage, was very good.
The film is special effects heavy, which considering the subject matter, isn’t wholly surprising. Entire CGI cities fly around us like a… theme park ride. But Brad Bird (who directed the incredible Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) does his best to make it not an entirely weightless experience. Action scenes are really well done and pack a lot of punch.

But let’s get down to the brass tacks of the matter. Tomorrowland is a tough sell in our cynical world of today, where film studios thought it was okay to make Superman a brooding loner, or when funding is pulled from space exploration and entire countries close their borders or outright reject people. This is about as politically left as a science fiction film can get, waving a flag of hope against what many people consider “unknowable” dangers in our future. If you are someone who doesn’t believe in climate change, or see problems with border walls, you will see this film as nonsensical propaganda. It is a brave film and at times it is noble in its speeches and its intentions.

At times. The ending isn’t one of those times.

Spoilers for a two year old film ahead.

The film doesn’t end on the triumphant note I was expecting it to. In the film, Tomorrowland is a parallel dimension where all the world’s brightest and best go to learn from each other and progress their society beyond the limitations of the regular world (makes me think of the video game Bioshock…) But there’s no sign of them actively helping the regular world. If anything, Tomorrowland is a tyrannical upper class, taking the world’s brightest away from us to benefit themselves. No wonder our world is collapsing, no? By the end of the film… nothing has changed with this. It actually feels a little seedy by the end.
But even outside of the metaphor and subtext, the final act of the film felt very cliche and underwhelming for the great setup and initial premise. The massive, world spiraling issues, the real issues plaguing our world and societies… solved by making something go boom.
It really cheapened it all. Why ask the big questions (that Casey literally asks) about the state of the world, if you cannot provide answers to them?

Ultimately, I can see why people rejected Tomorrowland, but there is a lot of talent and effort here. From the performances and the direction from Brad Bird, to even the special effects (as many as there are) which are well designed and implemented. The action scenes too are punchy and kinetic.
And its morals and its intentions are noble (at least until the end) and it is nice to see a unique movie being made… but considering Disney is making billions from Star Wars instead of losing millions from projects like Tomorrowland, this could be one of the last we ever see.



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