In Tomorrowland, it isn’t so much the future not working out, as it is the present. Amidst this struggling today is Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), an intelligent young woman, daughter of a NASA engineer and troublemaker. Raised by a father who instilled optimism at all times, Casey is struggling with this mindset since dear ol’ dad, with all of his smarts, can barely hold a job. While trying, rather deviously, to keep her dad’s job afloat, Casey is arrested and comes to receive a metallic pin from a strange benefactor.
This is no ordinary pin and when Casey grabs it, her mind is transported to an alternate realm where the science of the future is today. Jetpacks soar here and there, monorails travel sans rail along the sky and space is the current frontier. It isn’t a dream, but it also isn’t a place Casey is able to stay in for more than a few minutes. The pin is merely a teaser of the wonders of Tomorrowland and in her efforts to find the truth of this place, we meet robots, crazy contraptions and George Clooney.
Directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), Tomorrowland is a bit of a dazzler. It’s a near rapturous affair, full of ideas, wild action, melancholy and several heaps more of stuff. Bird, who co-wrote the film with Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen, doesn’t rush to tell his tale. Tomorrowland unfurls throughout its two-hour plus running time. It isn’t padded out. The film is comfortable in its pacing. Bird throws the fireworks factory up in the opening, tantalizing the audience, only to give us the context of the travails the world inhabits before letting the return trip take place.
Along the way we get to discover the characters, some of which are better than others. Robertson’s Casey never totally congeals as more than an idea and entry-point. She is hope given life, with a bit of piss-and-vinegar mixed into the formula. Her want to return to the titular place calls to mind the guttural need Richard Dreyfus felt in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A little more shading of Casey as a person would be welcome, but Robertson portrays the wide-eyed nature well.
The two that really lift the picture up are Clooney and Raffey Cassidy. The former is of course one of the most well known actors alive, who plays Frank Walker, a one-time inventor in Tomorrowland. Frank spent decades in this secretive home of dreamers, engineers and artists, before being given the boot for a device of which the locals were not to fond. Clooney’s Frank is dour and bitter to this day about the ejection, even if a spark of hope remains. As for Cassidy, well, she’s a young robot. Sort of. Okay, Cassidy is Athena, a robot from Tomorrowland who seeks out possible candidates for the land who just happens to look like a little girl. Cassidy is terrific through out; bringing the best out of Robertson’s Casey and all of the curiosities that character is brimming with. She’s even better with Clooney, causing all of the past to circle Frank once more, along with all of the confused feelings his younger self felt.
As Bird gives us further details, preaching occurs. Some of it works and other bits don’t. Bird and company definitely state their disappointment in our society’s admiration of the dour, be it disaster films or comfortable negativity. When Frank rants about how the world once had such high hopes, the tenor buckles. The times of the Cold War, with nuclear threat looming, racism raging and homophobia being the preferred method, aren’t exactly what I’d call smiles and goodwill. That said, the notion that we as a people see numerous atrocities on our doorstep and do little to stop them is on point.
The mumbling of the message is Tomorrowland’s one true misstep, though even that lands a few genuine blows. Several days into its release and the film’s die has largely been cast. Tomorrowland is likely to be a flop, commercially and critically. I’ll sink with it though and look forward to returning to its finely crafted comedy, theatrics and heart.