Tomorrowland

Posted by Joel Copling on May 21, 2015


Instead of burying the lede, I'll come straight out with it: The third act of "Tomorrowland" pivots crucially on the particulars of the film's central mystery and consists of the positioned protagonist laying out those bread crumbs for the audience to see. It is, perhaps, a small misstep but only in a strategic sense. Thematically, the scene is but an extension on the place at which the film as a whole finds its characters and universe. Director Brad Bird's screenplay with Damon Lindelof is an intelligent, probing one that also offers more than a dollop of sentiment in the Spielbergian tradition--meaning that the film has a brimful of confidence in itself, too.

The title, for the uninitiated, is shared by an exhibit in an assortment of theme parks across the world, built from an idea that Walt Disney (whose eventual film production company is, of course, behind this effort) was driven to spread all across America--but mostly to the optimists. It was an idea of greener grasses on the proverbial "other side," a kind of fervor that could drive out forces for bad by the power of positive and (whatever the political types will tell you about the man himself) progressive thinking. This fuels the heart of "Tomorrowland," which is not a subtle film, nor does it need to be. Some movies need a heavier hand to do their work, and (though other reviews are not relevant to this one), there has been too much critical emphasis in the week leading up to its release on the mere fact of preachiness and not enough on whether it earns the pulpit and the notes from which to give the sermon.

In 1964, Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) was one of the optimists, and who could blame him: He's a kid of maybe eight or nine at the time, and he has arrived at the World Fair in New York to present his own invented jetpack to the judges of a competition. There is no clear use for it, one of the judges (Hugh Laurie) says; "It's fun," replies Frank, and isn't that sort of the point? Innovation leads to invention, which leads to inspiration: That's the worldview adopted by the film proper, and it's rather a truthful one, isn't it? This is a movie brimming with innovation, seemingly inventing itself as it goes along, and what's that third step again? Let's just say this is a movie to show the kids.

Take a scene in which the older Frank (George Clooney) and our primary protagonist, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson in a performance that should catapault the actress into stardom, if the movie is as financially successful as it should be), who of course figures into this as only a primary protagonist with a special, untapped set of abilities could, are escaping from Frank's bunker from robotic agents from the future. The sequence is, in theory, just the usual escape sequence (At least, it is edited and framed to be so), but the details tell a different story. It's a case of a movie constantly pulling out the stops to show us something new. That extends to the inclusion of another character named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), whose identity and placement in the narrative will be kept close to this critic's chest.

The performances are all fine--though especially Cassidy, whose flickers of humanity and forward-thinking belie the otherworldly nature of her character--but this is a movie about ideas, ones it engages in. If it doesn't provide answers for the questions it raises, that's because it asks the Big Questions. Even better, it has the audacity to do so. Action sequences outside of the crafty and clever bunker escape show off dazzling visual effects (which, elsewhere, build the eponymous world of Tomorrowland with intimidating detail) and mounting inventiveness. The plot is mostly confined to that third act, which presents a conflict for the purpose of the narrative but, more importantly, a conundrum for the film's heroes; the solution is, similarly to the answers of the bigger-picture questions, uncertain, but that's how it's supposed to be. "Tomorrowland" bravely adopts a hopeful (Some might say "dreamer's") philosophy that neither hollows its emotional core nor leadens the the effort with the weight of needless melodrama. This is honest, good-hearted sentiment at work.

Film Information


Britt Robertson (Casey Newton), George Clooney (Frank Walker), Raffey Cassidy (Athena), Hugh Laurie (Nix), Tim McGraw (Eddie Newton), Pierce Gagnon (Nate Newton), Thomas Robinson (Younger Frank), Kathryn Hahn (Ursula), Keegan-Michael Key (Hugo), Matthew MacCaull (Dave Clark).

Directed by Brad Bird and written by Bird and Damon Lindelof.

Rated PG (sci-fi action violence/peril, thematic elements, language).

130 minutes.

Released on May 22, 2015.