Since it was announced, Tomorrowland has been one of those films that I’ve not known what to think of. Whilst the whole idea was interesting and I really like Brad Bird as a director, the vagueness of everything and the worrying presence of Damon Lindelof made it so my anticipation was limited. Then the reviews came in, a lot of them being incredibly negative, which further limited my anticipation. After watching the film, I have to say that I enjoyed myself, but I can’t deny that there are some flaws with the overall plotting of the film that prevent it from being great. Since a lot of the film is based on big reveals there are spoilers in this review, if you do not want to know the spoilers, then go and watch the film first.
The plot focuses on Casey, a teenage girl who starts the film sabotaging the machines dismantling the NASA launch site at Cape Canaveral. This gets the attention of Athena, the recruiter for the city of Tomorrowland, a utopian ideal based around the optimism of science and progress seen in classic 50’s sci-fi and in the steampunk scene. Casey gets given a pin that shows her visions of Tomorrowland and, wanting to find out more, she seeks out help, ultimately being directed to Frank, a former resident of Tomorrowland Athena brought to the city at the 1964 World’s Fair who was kicked out due to one of his machines, who takes them to Tomorrowland with the aim of trying to prevent the apocalypse. Now a lot of the ideas in this film I really like. The whole idea of Tomorrowland and how we have let our society move away from the ideas of science and progress and focused instead on greed is an incredibly relevant and important message considering how many countries and companies do not want to do anything about issues like climate change since it will not make them money in the short run. The whole message that we need to improve the future is a message that we need to hear. Along with this, Tomorrowland itself is one of the most attractive utopian visions presented in recent films and you do want to go to the city as soon as you see it, which is very important for a film like this. I also love that the main science loving hero who ends up being the one to save the world is a girl, something which we need to see a lot more of.
The problems with the film though come with the structure and the ending. The majority of the film is too focused on the journey getting to Tomorrowland and not what happens in Tomorrowland itself. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the first act in the film, the characters all interact with each other brilliantly, the optimism is excellent and the plot is intriguing, but this first act goes on so long that there is no second act in the story. Plus, when we actually get to Tomorrowland, it has fallen into a state of disrepair and there is no explanation given in the film as to why this has happened. This may have been given in the pre-release material but, if this is the case, it was a terrible decision as most people, including myself, won’t have seen this material, this is something that needed to be included in the film but was just left out. Then there are some of the twists that are obvious from the word go but are treated as major reveals, the main one being that it is completely obvious that Athena is a robot but you’re meant to be surprised when you find out. The film is also feels too preachy at the end, with the villain Governor Nix, telling the characters that the current trend of dystopian fiction is bringing about the end of the world since it is leaving us numb to the reality, whilst seeming to ignore the optimism in most of these films, most recently seen in the optimism in Mad Max: Fury Road. All of this continues to show that, after Lost, Prometheus and Star Trek Into Darkness, Damon Lindelof cannot write an ending to save his life. If this ending was handled a bit better, and having Tomorrowland stay as the utopian ideal to make the message of optimism and progress more apparent (along with providing more sense to the actions of Nix), this could have been a great piece of sci-fi.
One of the main things that keeps the film strong though is the excellent cast. Britt Robertson is a great find as Casey, with her entire optimistic nature being presented incredibly naturally, along with her intelligence coming across in such a way that it is not forced and can help serve as an inspiration to girls wanting to get into science. If even one girl is inspired by this film to go into the scientific field then the film is a success. She also plays off brilliantly with George Clooney right from the start in a prologue that, whilst a bit pointless, did help set up the relationship between the two characters. Clooney plays Frank as someone who had all of his optimism sucked out of him, someone who wants to be hopeful but has had too much taken away from him to have this hope in him until Casey turns up. Granted, when we find out why Frank acts like this it gets a bit creepy but Clooney pulls it off the best he can and he gets a lot of the best moments in the film. Whilst the character of Nix feels a bit underdeveloped, Hugh Laurie gives a great performance as him, showing that, even whilst being in Tomorrowland, he is ultimately a cynic who doesn’t think we deserve a chance of joining Tomorrowland. Finally in the main cast, there’s Raffey Cassidy as Athena, who does a great turn, showing the robotic nature of the character in very subtle ways that let you know that she is a robot effectively, whilst also showing the relationship she has with Frank is more than just a friendship and she does have the optimism and hope that personifies Tomorrowland. There’s also good work done in small roles by Tim McGraw, Looper’s Pierce Gagnon, Thomas Robinson as the young Frank (who shows the relationship between Frank and Athena most effectively and being a great contrast to Clooney as the older Frank) and another scene-stealing turn from Keegan-Michael Key as the owner of a sci-fi collectible shop Casey goes to trying to find out about Tomorrowland.
The technical aspects of the film are also excellent. Brad Bird continues to show himself as an excellent live action director and, along with cinematographer Claudio Miranda, present a very clear, crisp film, making great use of colour and location to present the world of the film. The design of Tomorrowland itself is excellent, having this very futuristic feel but also a sense of the old fashioned idea of the future. This is a type of utopian city that would be seen in Star Trek or in 50’s sci-fi comics and the whole environment really makes you want to visit, with the scene of Casey exploring Tomorrowland being one of the highlights of the film, and if this was not done correctly then the film would fall apart. The action sequences meanwhile are really well handled. The scenes have a great flow to them, the weapons in the scenes have this great pulp sci-fi look to them and they allow for some great comedic moments, mostly to do with Matthew MacCaull as one of the robots sent after Casey, Athena and Frank. The only problem with them is that the ending should not have had an action scene, Nix is a villain where it would make more sense to talk him out of his attitudes rather than fighting him and, whilst the scene is good, it does feel like Brad Bird was forced to include this scene by the higher ups at Disney. Finally there’s the music by Michael Giachinno, which, whilst being a great score and really fitting the tone of the film, is a carbon copy of his music to Super 8, which was a bit distracting to me.
Overall, if it wasn’t for the ending, Tomorrowland: A World Beyond could have been one of the great works of utopian sci-fi but as it stands, it’s just a really good film. All the ideas behind the film are incredibly relevant and need to be heard, the main three characters are really likable and the design and direction of the film is top notch but the curse of Damon Lindelof strikes again, with a greater focus on set-up than pay-off. I did have a great time with this film, the film leading up to when the characters arrive in Tomorrowland is excellent and I don’t agree with all the negative press around the film but this is ultimately destined to be this years John Carter, a passion project of a Pixar director who was given a bit too much money that is going to end up losing Disney a ton of money and be unfairly maligned, at least for the moment, and I don’t think this film deserves that fate.
My Rating: 4/5