At first glance, Tomorrowland has every possible factor needed to succeed. It’s directed by Brad Bird, who really hasn’t made a single misstep his whole career, and still hasn’t, in my opinion; its full of beautiful visuals and exciting fantasy; and stars George Clooney alongside two outstanding young actresses who more than hold their own alongside the Hollywood veteran.
However, there’s something missing, but it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is. The many moving pieces involved in Tomorrowland‘s story all work, and quite well, more often than not. However, the script, co-written by Bird and Damon Lindelof, often seems to struggle in defining what it’s really trying to say, leading to a conclusion that feels almost half-finished.
And yet, even with its many problems, I can’t help but enjoy the experience for what it is. Tomorrowland is a lot of fun, and for the first half of the movie, I was loving it. The story does a wonderful job in establishing the world it resides in, and is full of such an unbridled enthusiasm for science and discovery that it’s hard not to get caught up in the adventure.
This is made possible thanks to a great cast of characters, who all work incredibly well together and are as lively and endearing as they come. While Tomorrowland has three main leads, it’s Britt Robertson’s Casey who leads the charge, and does so with a sincerity and excitement that I found to be incredibly refreshing.
Casey is a dreamer, a young woman with lofty aspirations of traveling the stars who isn’t afraid to stretch the rules in her favor if it will help her get where she wants to go. Her excitement for science and adventure is immediately infectious, and Robertson does a great job of pulling the audience into the journey alongside her.
George Clooney turns in a strong performance as well, although it still feels like he’s just playing himself. His character, a grouchy inventor named Frank Walker who has strong ties to the fantastical city of Tomorrowland, is easily likable and has a great camaraderie with his fellow co-stars, but once again, this is Clooney doing what we’ve all come to expect from him, so there are no real surprises from him here.
The real star of Tomorrowland, however, is relative newcomer Raffey Cassidy, who plays the mysterious young girl Athena, who acts as a guide of sorts for Casey and Frank as they set their sights on reaching Tomorrowland. For such a young actress, Cassidy easily steals every scene she’s in, and is so effortlessly charming that she’s sure to have an incredibly successful career ahead of her.
Perhaps one of the most surprising elements of Tomorrowland came from Athena’s relationship with Clooney’s character Frank. Without getting into spoilers, the two of them have a complicated history that makes their scenes together ooze with an engaging layer of intrigue and mystery, and it gives the movie an emotional center very different from anything we’ve seen before, especially from Disney.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t fare as well as the three leads, and the closer the plot gets to its climax the murkier its intent becomes. While the first half is exciting and driven by an electric sense of adventure and mystery, there’s not much else to it beyond that, and nearly derails itself in the end because it fails to tie its different ideas together.
This is ultimately the film’s greatest flaw, as the entire climax ends up becoming a needlessly rushed and cramped affair that offers little in terms of satisfaction or closure. The story just progresses too fast in the second half, and the odd pacing makes it hard for the movie to establish the purpose of its message before fading to black.
The climax is still enjoyable, and did offer a nice emphasis on imagination, one of the few definable traits consistent throughout the movie, but not even the addition of Hugh Laurie into the cast dynamic could completely make up for the rushed nature of everything else going on.
This is unfortunate, because there’s a lot of potential in what Tomorrowland is trying to convey, and I wanted it to succeed so badly that it’s disappointing that it just misses the mark. While it’s sure to capture the attention of younger audiences, there’s just not enough depth or clarity to the plot to make it stand out as much as I was hoping it would.
Thankfully, the visuals are able to help make up for some of the plot’s shortcomings, as there is not a single scene in the movie without something to marvel at. Brad Bird’s directing is superb as always, and his sense of scene structure works really well alongside the sheer scale of the world he’s playing in.
The city of Tomorrowland is equal parts science fiction and fantasy, and is full of such mystifying visuals and spectacles that I can’t help but wish we had gotten to see more of it, as it doesn’t make a proper appearance until near the final act. Still, the city’s unique combination of futuristic and retro technology make it very much worth the wait, even if our glimpse of it is sadly cut short.
When the movie delves into the occasional flashback, however, the environment shines brighter than it does anywhere else, and part of me wishes that we had seen more of the city in its prime rather than the more isolated and hollow one actually seen. It’s in these moments where Bird’s directing shines the brightest, as he delivers some of the film’s most visually spectacular moments.
Tomorrowland is a movie full of great ideas and potential, but doesn’t always know what to do with them. It’s an endearing and refreshingly optimistic science fiction movie from the minds of Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof, and while it succeeds in creating a fascinating world of science and mystery, it fails to give a definable voice to the message its trying to convey.
Though I have some mixed feelings about it, Tomorrowland is still a very fun movie with some strong ideas and an admirable intent, and I fully expect to watch it again sometime. Even though the final act fails to tie the plot together in a meaningful way, I enjoyed the rest of the movie so much that I still think it’s worth watching if anything in the previews caught your interest. Just be sure to temper your expectations before sitting down.