May 23, 2015
In 1964, Frank Walker was a child genius who bravely showed up at the World's Fair, bringing a crude jetpack he had invented by himself. In 2015, Casey Newton uses her own mechanical inventions to try and delay the dismantling of NASA platforms at Cape Canaveral. A mysterious little girl named Athena chooses both of them to receive a pin inscribed with a letter T, a touch of which brings them to a magical futuristic wonderland. With Athena's intercession, Walker and Newton cross paths in the present day in an effort to emancipate this "Tomorrowland" from the negative forces which control it.
From the trailer alone, we know "Tomorrowland" would be an extravagant visual treat. And that it really was. From meticulously recreating the 1964 World's Fair with its retro fashion and quaint technology to imaginatively envisioning a metropolis of the future with its outlandish architecture and snazzy hovercrafts, this film is a masterpiece of production design. An old wooden farm house becomes a high-tech ironclad fortress. A store in Houston becomes a treasure trove of pop culture memorabilia, a true blast from the past. And best of them all, the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris becomes a sparkly and spectacular rocket launch station!
Visuals alone though do not a great movie make. The way director Brad Bird tells it, the story goes through 130 minutes of convoluted loops and elaborate turns. The first act was slow and long-winded, with so many fancy stunts that led nowhere. The second act when Franky and Casey get together was the best and most exciting part of the film. I forgot my dissatisfaction of the first act, and felt the rising tension so effectively built. Disappointingly, whatever momentum was created by the second act got eroded away by an overlong and even tediously anti-climactic third act. I could not wait for it to end, but the end was not coming soon enough.
Since his two main co-stars are relative newcomers, the talent and experience of George Clooney were essential to bind this whole rather messy bundle together, and he does so effectively. Clooney plays his disillusioned genius character Frank Walker as a gruff curmudgeon, and he was charming and funny.
Britt Robertson has been acting for 15 of her 25 years and this lead role as Casey is her biggest break. I do not know if it is her acting or the way her character was written, but she did not succeed to have me rooting for her Casey. She came across as too sassy and smart-alecky for comfort. Aside from optimism, what exactly is Casey's dream? We were not clearly told. Her closeness with her father is only implied but not elaborated. It seemed too easy for her to just run off to another state without seeking her father's permission. This was bothersome from a parent's point of view.
Child actress Raffey Cassidy fares much better in her role as Athena. We had seen her delightful pixie face before as the young Eva Green in "Dark Shadows" and the young Kristen Stewart in "Snow White and the Huntsman." Here she had good chemistry with Thomas Robinson, the actor playing the young Frank Walker, as well as with Clooney as the old Frank. It is just too bad that her character was not developed too clearly. When her climactic dramatic moment came at the end, we fail to emotionally connect with it
Hugh Laurie was given the thankless role of Nix, the leader of Tomorrowland whose motivations are unclear and do not really make any sense in the final analysis. This underwritten antagonist character was certainly one of the factors why the story did not fly.
Since his auspicious animated feature film debut "The Iron Giant" (1999), Brad Bird had consistently given us top-notch films: "The Incredibles" (2004), "Ratatouille" (2007) and the live action "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" (2011) are all excellent. Audacious as it may seem on the surface, "Tomorrowland" is Bird's most disappointing project to date.
Of course, as this is a Disney movie, we are expected to approach this film with childlike idealism, flawed as the underlying message may be. Optimistic dreamers are the ultimate saviors of the world. For me, "Tomorrowland" was not able to sell that idea too well.
It concentrated too much in developing grand images guaranteed to awe and amaze us, hoping that the poorly-told story will not matter so much. Frank Walker did have a line that went, "Can't you just be amazed, and move on?" For young kids, maybe because they will not really understand what is going on. For most adult audiences though, they will see through the smoke and mirrors and feel oddly empty after the final (supposedly inspirational) scenes. 5/10.