(We were off thru Memorial Day, but happily goodbuddy Rohan Morbey caught Tomorrowland opening night, and shared his review to fill the weekend gap. His original review can be found as always over at Rohan's site Closing Credits - do follow him on Twitter!)
The world’s ending, it’s all our fault and Disney want you to know about it. But first let’s have a fun time at the cinema, buy the merchandise and check out the theme park before the cities crumble. It’s this hypocrisy which pulls director Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland in one direction only to push it into another; resulting in a film which, though fun at times, never feels anywhere as genuine as it needs to be.
I appreciate and welcome a massive budget family movie which isn’t based on the usual checklist of ‘how can we make easy money’ (sequel, remake, superhero, best-selling kids novels) and which has a meaningful message at its core; yet, despite being inspired by Walt Disney’s vision of a utopian future the movie ends up being packaged just like all the rest. The script by Damon Lindelof and Bird is so full of padding and filler it soon draws attention to the fact that very little is actually going on, despite the bevy of special effects lighting up the screen. The opening twenty minutes could be conveyed in a few lines of dialogue but instead we get George Clooney as a kid discovering Tomorrowland, somewhat lessening the revelation when the exact same thing will happen to our hero Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) in the following act.
The story also suffers, as so many blockbusters do, with the insistent need to have a villain to instigate a large scale finale. Here Hugh Laurie takes on the thankless role, presumably because he’s British. I’d have hoped a film maker of Bird’s proven ability would have taken the road less traveled and insisted on any climax which didn’t feature robot fights and large objects falling from up on high. Yet all the usual clichés are thrown into a climax which arises from nothing other than the need to exist. Ironic then, for a film which wants us to take a good look at ourselves and save the planet that $150 million was blown on this non-event.
That said, there is an undeniable charm in how Bird directs and it is only he and the genuinely likable Robertson who save the film from utter disappointment. Robertson shows a comic ability to match Bird’s trademark sense of visual humor, which always hits the mark and had me laughing on many occasions; whether that be belching from downing two bottles of Coke or the very clever cross cutting between exploring Tomorrowland whilst battling the elements in the real world. Bird showed us in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol just how well he understands action and set pieces – a concept seemingly lost on many action directors today – and in Tomorrowland we’re treated to two or three splendidly crafted scenes, each one filled with the same details and cause and effect which would make Steven Spielberg proud. When it works the film feels like it’s from the Spielberg school of action directing (not that it's anywhere close to Spielberg at his best), accompanied by Michael Giacchino’s delightfully playful score reminiscent of John Williams and edited by Walter Murch (yes, THAT Walter Murch of Apocalypse Now and The Conversation) so clarity is never in question. Simple as though that may be, it’s so easy to overlook the craft of visual storytelling and Bird continues to show why he’s one of the very best in modern cinema.
Certainly a mixed bag of onscreen adventure and screenwriting misadventure, Tomorrowland contains enough fun and energetic set-pieces in the middle to just about make up for the flaccid start and tedious end. This, it should be pointed out, is an end where people of all races look like they’re in GAP commercials as the message is forced down our throats as far as it will go... so Bird, Giacchino and Murch’s fine work almost goes to waste in the worst way possible.