Tomorrowland (Brad Bird, 2015)
In a world, where nothing and no one is interesting … you will spend over two hours awaiting a meaningful, original story to develop, only to find yourself overwhelmed by bad CGI, flat characters and only tolerable acting. I know, it’s dispiriting. Perhaps it’s time, for those of you, who, like me, did not go see Pitch Perfect 2 last weekend (though the film crushed at the box office, so what, exactly, were we doing with ourselves?), to finally watch it. Alternately, the other two films opening – which I also haven’t yet seen – are the remake of Poltergeist (ugh) and an indie Western, Slow West (playing at the Charles Theatre, and looking mighty interesting) along with other, better, previously-opened fare – which I have seen – such as Clouds of Sils Maria, Ex Machina, Far from the Madding Crowd and Mad Max: Fury Road. Choose wisely. It’s a long weekend.
About the best that can be said for Tomorrowland is that it offers up the enjoyable site of a grumpy George Clooney. True, Clooney has not always played smooth charmers – his best recent (and Oscar-nominated) performance was in The Descendants, where he was anything but happy – but all too often he coasts on his easy charisma in movies like Gravity or The Monuments Men (which he also directed). Here, he is all misanthrope, and it’s fun to see him act in counterpoint to his familiar screen magnetism. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is not nearly as fun, in spite of the hyperactive efforts of helmer Brad Bird (The Incredibles) – also a co-screenwriter – and scribe Damon Lindelof (ABC’s “Lost“) – the other writer. Then again, Lindelof has a record of creating fanciful stories that he expects people to like even without any consistent internal logic (see “Lost” as exhibit A). Sometimes, in the case of movies like World War Z or Star Trek Into Darkness, it mostly works. At other times, we get Prometheus (hugely disappointing but watchable) or Cowboys & Aliens (blah). Suffice it to say that when I saw, at the end of Tomorrowland, Lindelof’s name appear on the screen, I said to myself, “of course he wrote this” …
The story begins … well, we’re not sure if it’s the present or the future, but we meet George Clooney as an angry someone, talking to us (we’re the camera), and arguing with an off-camera female voice that turns out to belong to Britt Robertson (The Longest Ride). Very quickly, we’re in a flashback to the 1964 New York World’s Fair, where we meet young Frank Walker (Clooney’s character), played – in one of the best bits of believable gene-pool casting – by Thomas Robinson, whom we completely buy as a boy George. It turns out that Frank, all of 10 years old or so, is an inventor, here to peddle a jetpack that only sort of works. An officious bureaucrat – played, with a maddeningly drifting accent, by Hugh Laurie (“House M.D.“) – to whom he shows his marvelous device, does not find it so marvelous. But his daughter (maybe she’s his daughter?), Athena – winningly played by Rafey Cassidy (Snow White and the Hunstman) – takes to young Frank, and gives him a magic pin (see poster, above) that, through a convoluted series of actions (which, I’ll admit, we’re kind of fun to watch, at this point in the movie), brings him to “Tomorrowland,” where the future is now (and where his jetpack is fixed by a robot). It’s Frank’s idea of paradise. Why, then, is old Frank so miserable? Well, in a better movie, that would be a great story, indeed.
Cut into Frank’s tale is that of current-day high-school student Casey, a mechanical genius whose Dad is a NASA engineer about to lose his job. After she is arrested for sabotaging her father’s worksite, she finds that same Tomorrowland pin among the effects returned to her on her way out of jail. The pin gives her a vision of the same place we saw earlier, back in 1964. And soon were seeing some other pretty crazy stuff, too, as the movie brings Casey into (angry, older) Frank’s orbit, and the two go on a quest to, of course, save the world. It needs saving, you see, because Tomorrowland – the future of yesterday – is sick. Along the way, the movie borrows liberally from sources like Robocop, Men in Black, The Matrix and even Disney’s Big Hero 6 (not surprisingly, since this is also a Disney film, and features quite a few tie-ins to the company’s theme parks), among many others. The film attempts to raise some of the same issues about artificial intelligence we’ve seen in recent movies like Ex Machina and Avengers: Age of Ultron, but even the latter (a film I did not love) had a more original take on the subject. What can I say? Tomorrowland is hokey new age pablum, and not worth your time.