I don’t ever, ever want to dislike a Brad Bird movie. As any of my close friends can tell you, my love for THE INCREDIBLES knows no bounds. So if Brad shows me a trailer full of retro-futuristic buildings and jet-packs and rockets and shit, I’m totally in his corner. What, it’s got George Clooney, too? Dish it up.
So… what went wrong? Can I put this all on Damon Lindelof? Please? (Spoilers? I’m not the spoiler. You’re the spoiler, Damon.)
TOMORROWLAND is off on the wrong foot at the get-go, with a framing device wherein Clooney and the girl character argue about who’s telling the story. The film doesn’t have the answer either, settling on Clooney-as-a-boy as the protagonist for about 20 minutes, then jettisoning him in favor of the girl, with boy-Clooney relegated to flashbacks thereafter.
Then, as you’ve no doubt seen in the trailers, the girl (Casey, played by Britt Robertson) receives a magic pin which offers her glimpses of the wonder-filled Tomorrowland. It’s a virtual-reality thing: she can see the world of Tomorrowland, but not interact with it. It’s good fun watching Casey figure out how the pin works, bumping into walls inside her house as she tries to approach the gleaming city. All this builds the mystery, while keeping Tomorrowland at arm’s length for while. When she finally does get there, she’s still a spectator, unable to touch anything. But she and we get a few minutes to gawk at the place, in all its gadget-y glory. Take a good look, because it’s the only chance you’ll get.
That’s because the premise of Tomorrowland-the-place is so illogical and vague that once revealed, there’s really nothing to do but have a villain take it away, so we’re then obliged to have a climactic battle to win it back. That all happens in the last 20 minutes or so of the film and until then, it’s a stall, stall, world.
First Clooney and Robertson have to battle some cranky robots, who are willing to kill them to prevent their journey back to Tomorrowland. Not the virtual one Casey saw, but the real one, which is located in another dimension. Sure.
True to its theme park roots, TOMORROWLAND expends the bulk of its screen time with the characters in one or another conveyance. They ride in cars, trucks, boats, jet-packs, floating trains, and even a kind of trans-dimensional pod thingy that magically zaps them to France. (A big fuss is made here, over the use of eye and ear protection and eating sugar to survive the perilous zapping process. I’m not sure why since later in the movie there’s a magic doorway that can effortlessly zap people to anywhere, no helmet required. Too bad Clooney didn’t have one of those in his farmhouse. The movie would have only been 40 minutes long.)
Anyhoo, everyone gets out of the pod thingy to find themselves in Paris, and guess what, that trip was just so they can climb aboard a rocketship – yay, another ride! – which blasts them halfway to the moon but no, really THAT’s just a running start for another inter-dimensional jump to get them, at long, long last, to Tomorrowland.
When they arrive, the titular metropolis is revealed to be a rusty, crumbling ruin, presided over by Hugh Laurie and more cranky robots. Why an abandoned city needs a mayor is beyond me, but there he is.
Laurie’s character monologues, villain-style, blaming the death of optimism and the world’s impending demise on humankind’s boundless appetite for its own helplessness. He castigates us all for our apathy and laziness, and as consumers of dystopia-as-entertainment. It’s a delicious, if fleeting, moment and by far the most heartfelt thing in the movie. TOMORROWLAND’s message of hope may be vague, but Laurie’s rant on pessimism is specific and sharp. It stings. It made me miss the days of “House, M.D.,” when Hugh Laurie got to tell people off on a weekly basis.