Tomorrowland : A WORLD BEYOND
Reviewed by oliver nolan
Peddling a slightly uneasy blend of Lost-esque myth building and aw-shucks Disneyland optimism, Brad Bird’s second live-action feature as director is a curious beast indeed. Since its first eye-popping teaser emerged in October last year, the team behind Tomorrowland have sought to establish an aura of intrigue about the project once simply known as 1952, with scant plot details emerging until much later. The finished product implies, sadly, that this strategy may have been motivated more so by the film’s somewhat vague message and scattershot plot, two factors that ultimately contribute to Tomorrowland’s relative incompatibility with any simple logline.
An opening, misfiring dual narrator joke sees George Clooney’s grizzled genius Frank Walker and perky upstart Casey (a highly promising Britt Robertson) argue over how best to begin their story, at once outlining the film’s key thematic concern with point-of-view as well as the occasionally convoluted, rambling nature of the narrative. It’s a neat idea, yet in execution, results in pacing issues that hinder the film’s opening act. We ultimately begin at the 1952 World’s Fair, with the young Frank (Thomas Robinson) presenting his not quite functional jetpack to Hugh Laurie’s distinctly unimpressed scientist, David Nix. Being the determined sort, Frank doesn’t let this faze him, his pursuit of Nix and the young, mysterious Athena (Raffey Cassidy) leading him to his accidental discovery of the titular world beyond, via an impressively well executed run-in with some helpful automatons. Now that we’ve arrived in Tomorrowland, it’s time to leave, as Casey’s story - and by extension, the main body of the film - must begin. Her discovery of a mysterious orange pin that transports her into another world kickstarts a cross-country pursuit of answers, and eventually, unites her with Frank. Accompanying them is Athena, who having not aged a day since 1952, is revealed early on to be an android.
Unfortunately, we’re closing in on the midpoint of the story by the time Frank, Casey and Athena finally pack their bags for Tomorrowland, and when we finally arrive, what we find is a serious disappointment. Without divulging too much, the initial creation of Tomorrowland ultimately ties in with the film’s repeated references to climate change and the inevitable dystopia that awaits humanity should we fail to at least attempt to adopt Casey’s idealistic mantra, ‘How can we fix it?’. Ambitious to a fault, the script is left with few options by which to reconcile this thread, ultimately tied up in a neat bow with a conclusion that doubles down on the earnestness, one ‘children are the future’ montage coming to resemble a particularly preachy PSA. Written by Bird with Lost and Prometheus writer Damon Lindelof, it would be difficult for even the most staunch idealist not to balk at Tomorrowland’s unusual mix of real-world generalisations with a strangely canned optimism, and it’s very unfortunate that this overshadows the film’s many strong qualities.
Indeed, Bird is infinitely more successful when allowing Tomorrowland to function as a straight-forward Disney blockbuster, his knack for an action set-piece elevating the film echelons beyond its myriad story problems. The all too brief glimpses we’re given of the eponymous world in all its visual splendour are thrilling, particularly young Frank’s jetpack ride through its 1952 iteration. Our brief visit to Frank’s country hideaway, quickly disrupted by unnervingly chipper henchmen, is wondrous collision of practical effects and CGI. Elsewhere, Casey’s trip to sci-fi store Blast From the Past would make Comic-Book Guy sweat. A sequence of pure, unfiltered nerdiness with Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn as two especially deranged shopkeepers, it gives way to a surprisingly tense shootout that sees Disney flaunt their new ownership of Lucasfilm by having a character use a scale replica of R2-D2 as a coup de grace. For what Tomorrowland may lack in profundity or any lasting emotional resonance, it’s in these moments that Bird’s passion for classical Hollywood flair shines through to dizzying, yet rather too infrequent heights.