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Catching Up: Tomorrowland (2015)
Director: Brad Bird
Cast: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Raffey Cassidy, Hugh Laurie, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, Pierce Gagnon, Thomas Robinson, Chris Bauer
The teenage heroine of Tomorrowland grew up hearing a story from her parents, and it’s one she repeats to her father (Tim McGraw) after he loses his job at NASA. “There are two wolves,” she says. “And they’re always fighting. One is darkness and despair, the other is light and hope. Which wolf wins?” Her dad hesitates to answer at first, but eventually gives in. “Whichever one you feed,” he says.
Tomorrowland is a movie determined to feed that wolf of light and hope. It is a tenaciously optimistic movie, one that believes that the world can be a truly special place if people actually made the effort to make it so. There is a speech made by the villain later in the movie about how Earth will soon come to an end, and it’s inevitable now because people have accepted the fact that the world is ending, because doing so requires no action on their part. So get off your bums people! We got a planet to save!!!
Okay, so Tomorrowland is corny and preachy, but given that the message is that people have the power within them to do good, I can think of worse messages for a movie to preach at me (I’m thinking about those “entertainments” with hidden political agendas like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or White House Down). This is a fun and immensely likable summer blockbuster, carried by affable performances from a talented cast, and special-effects that are truly wonders to behold.
The title fantasy landscape is a visual marvel, a bright and inventive futuristic metropolis where residents fly around on jet packs, and swim in what has got to be the neatest looking swimming area that I’ve ever seen. We get a real feel for the place when science-whiz teenager Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) first ventures there after discovering a mysterious pin with a T emblazoned on it among her possessions. Filmed in one glorious, unbroken shot, Casey’s first venture into Tomorrowland is so enchanting and exciting that it’s enough to justify seeing the movie.
We do get just a glimpse of the city early on, but only briefly. It comes during a 1964 segment where a young boy named Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) presents a jet pack at the New York World’s Fair. The main judge, named Nix (Hugh Laurie), asks the young boy what the jet pack could possibly contribute to society. He gives him two answers: 1) it’s fun, and 2) if someone sees it, then they can believe that anything’s possible. Good answers, but they’re not enough to convince Nix.
A little girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) overhears him, and asks him why he decided to build it. His response: “I got tired of waiting around for someone else to do it for me.” Again, good answer. She hands him a pin, and by her instructions, he sneaks onto the It’s a Small World ride and is zapped to Tomorrowland. Twenty years later (and now played by George Clooney), he’s kicked out Tomorrowland, and retreats to a secluded farmhouse where he grows bitter and cynical.
Cut to present day. Casey and Frank cross paths after Athena (still played by Cassidy; you'll understand why when you see the movie) saves Casey from evil robots who wanted to retrieve her magical pin. Together, the three of them travel back to Tomorrowland, discover the truth about their dying planet, and fight the sort-of villainous Nix, who’s now governor of Tomorrowland, to save their world. There are many special-effects heavy set-pieces along the way, including a laser gun battle at a Houston-set memorabilia store and an attack at Frank’s farmhouse.
As directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol), the action is exciting and well-choreographed (no incomprehensible shaky camera work here), and although the movie runs on for 130 minutes, it moves at a reasonably brisk clip. While the screenplay by Bird and Damon Lindelof talks about serious and heavy issues (like Global Warming, terrorism, riots, famine, etc.), Bird never allows the proceedings to become too dark. The tone is always jovial, fun, and, dare I say, hopeful. Tomorrowland acknowledges the horrible things happening in the world right now, but even they can’t damper its optimistic spirit.
The screenplay is occasionally messy and does have its share of faults – for example, in a home video of Casey as a child, both her mother and father are there, but as a teen her mother is gone without explanation – but the cast more than makes up for it. Clooney disappears into his role as the world-weary Frank, Laurie is amusingly cynical as Nix, and Robertson is delightful as a young woman whose unwavering optimism inspires others to hope. The real surprise is Cassidy, who turns in a surprisingly strong performance for an actress so young.
We need more movies like Tomorrowland, ones that are honest about the state of the world but refuse to be brought down by it. With news channels reporting stories that are meant to instill fear and pessimism, here is a movie that acknowledges those stories as true, but dares to ask it audience, “What are we doing about it?” Yes, it’s corny, but that’s just part of the movie’s charm. It’s a lovely and entertaining movie, and in spite of my fellow critics tearing it down, I’m choosing to stand by it.
Rated PG for lots of sci-fi action, some violence, mild language
Final Grade: *** ½ (out of ****)
Other Thoughts on Tomorrowlan (2015)!! :D
- Tomorrowland | Christianity Today
Hollywood is fighting its own Loudness War, and this movie definitely isn’t helping.
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- Tomorrowland | Reelviews Movie Reviews
Tomorrowland is an interesting collage of moments and ideas in search of a strong narrative and a coherent ending. For a while, it doesn't matter that the plot meanders. The story seems like a jigsaw puzzle inviting us to solve it. That's the...
- Review: Tomorrowland (2015) | Cinema Sight by Wesley Lovell