So… Tomorrowland

Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.

SPOILERS NOT SO MUCH POSSIBLE AS PROBABLE

Tomorrowland, a film about… well actually a lot of things. To cut to the chase it’s an interesting film but in my opinion not an entirely successful one. The film opens at the 1964 World’s Fair with Frank Walker (Clooney) explaining how as a young boy and with the assistance of a girl called Athena he found his way into an amazingly futuristic city, existing outside of our world, called Tomorrowland. The city is the incarnation of every positive vision of the future, where all the imagined future technologies of the nineteen sixties  (rocket packs, robots etc) are a reality. The narrative then shifts to the present day and now the optimism of Tomorrowland is completely absent and we’re introduced to Casey Newton (Robertson), the daughter of a NASA engineer, who is actively attempting to sabotage to demolition of a rocket launch pad. After a brush with the law, Newton finds herself in possession a badge which grants visions of an amazing city; via a now grown up Walker and a still young Athena she attempts to find her way back.

Apparently Tomorrowland has done badly which is a pity but I can understand why. It is a film that no shortage of ideas, what it doesn’t seem to have is focus. Despite the title, only a modest portion of the film is actually spent in the city. The majority of the action takes place in our world, with the heroes chased by a robot execution squad determined to stop them. A long the way and in the most drawn out fashion possible we find out that the end of the world is nigh – for reasons that are never specified. Only by getting to Tomorrowland can this – somehow – be prevented.

During the course of chase we’re told repeatedly that Newton is Special, that she has a score on some kind of intelligence scale that is amazingly high. But in course of the story she doesn’t demonstrate this, she isn’t stupid by any means (although she seems to be slow on the uptake a few times) and it isn’t a failure of the actress. Her only consistently special trait is optimism which frankly seems thin. It’s only in the third act that she suddenly grasps that the time viewer by which the impending apocalypses was detected is causing a self fulfilling prophecy.  Since her credentials as a genius or saviour have not been established this feels incredibly pulled out of thin air.  Frankly she’s only just arrived in Tomorrowland, she should still be trying to figure out how the three seashells in the bathroom work.

When they do finally reach Tomorrowland, there’s no sense of wonder or even consistency. The robots in our world have summarily murdered anyone who might find out about Tomorrowland but when the heroes finally reach the city, the head of the city David Nix (Hugh Laurie) is actually quiet civil. It’s a jarring contrast without any apparent reason (seriously in the middle act one American town had half it police force wiped out). He attempts to persuade them tat the situation is futile before sending them back to live out their last few days. Tomorrowland itself is really an empty shell, we only see about three people, thus we get no sense that it is a living breathing community.

There no doubt that when the film finally gets to the city, things do get really preachy on Green topics which anyways seems to wind some people up. This is a line from Nix

 You’ve got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation, explain that one. Bees butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, the algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint! In every moment there’s a possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality.

I’m not sure whether this was intended but Nix represents actually one of the most interesting parts of the film in that he ends up representing both extremes of the environmental question. As you can see from the line above we have all the environmental buzz words. But what I find interesting is that also highlights the weakness in the green lobby. A rigidity of ideology that matches the politicians and industrialist Nix speaks scornfully of, it is his way or no way. The constant doom-mongering he offers results in people either switching off or viewing it as unavoidable. Also he isn’t prepared to countenance letting people into Tomorrowland, a very ‘I’m alright jack attitude’.

Lets finish with some positives though. Raffey Cassidy as Athena was really impressive. In many respects she was playing the Obi-Wan Kenobi type character, a role usually reserved for an old guy but proves equal to a role that was probably the most challenging in the film as she flicks between childish to adult very convincingly. The relationship between her character – a pre pubescent girl and Clooney’s character – a man looking at middle age in the rear view mirror – could have come across as incredibly creepy. This they manage to avoid this just about.

So the bottom line is that Tomorrowland is not a good film. There are some interesting ideas, some go performances but really, it’s hamstrung with a poor script.

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