Movie Reivew - Tomorrowland
You know, I’ve already written about John Carter, but I seriously need to sit down and write up a piece on Disney bombs and why they deserve more love. [After this article, all you have left in recent memory is The Lone Ranger…is it really worth it? – Ed.] Alright, killjoy, let’s just focus on the movie to be reviewed here: Tomorrowland. While the film itself doesn’t really offer us anything new, the theme of the film is something I feel needs to be embraced…as soon as humanly possible.
At the core of this film is the question ‘Whatever happened to the future?’ Mind you, this question is aimed at a particular type of future…the one most prevalent in the 50’s and 60’s: flying cars and jetpacks, everything atomic powered, freeze-dried food that became a sumptuous meal, so on and such. While the seeds of this future’s demise were planted back in the dystopic science fiction of the mid to late 70’s, it’s really only come to fruition in more modern times. Most of modern cinema shows the future as either a post-apocalyptic scenario or that the apocalypse is either imminent (the hero/protagonist(s) need(s) to prevent it) or occurring (the hero/protagonist(s) need(s) to survive it). Gone are the days and films of a wondrous future. I mean, maybe Star Trek qualifies (or at least its core concept)…but the current films focus more on the action and less on the taking a breath to show off the wonders of the 23rd century and the works of the Federation.
Tomorrowland roots the loss of this future in the all too real downsizing of the American space program and its associated agency, NASA. All things considered, it’s a pretty good narrative shorthand…just look at the timeline. The Reagan 80’s had the Space Shuttle program and in the 90’s focus had shifted to the International Space Station…but the 2000’s saw the retirement of the Space Shuttle and interest continues to wain in the ISS and as much as there’s talk about wanting to venture out to Mars, it seems like less and less progress toward that endeavor has been made in each passing year. NASA’s activity is now limited, mainly due to funding issues resultant of a people and thus a Congress less and less interested in the prospects of exploration with American private industry (most notably Elon Musk’s Space X…but there are others) picking up some of the slack. The remainder, including the shuttling of personnel to and from the ISS, has fallen to other countries, most notably Russia. That’s another rant for another time. It’s with this narrative parallel that we meet our protagonist, Casey Newton. As one would expect from a kid Disney protagonist, she’s full of optimism (annoyingly so) and…honestly, I don’t feel like explaining it, it’s a Disney kid protagonist…you should know the type by now, no subtlety or significant depth and everything is dialed up to 11. Her father is a former NASA engineer, laid off due to the aforementioned lack of funding and dismantling of some of the Cape Canaveral facilities. It’s in this latter activity that we find Casey doing her level best to sabotage the proceedings…but, in a surprise to absolutely no one, she gets caught.
Gasp. Shock. Total spoilage, am I right???
Once her dad springs her from the hoosegow (that’s the official spelling, I looked it up), [That’s a first. – Ed.] she finds in her belongings a pin that, upon touching it, seemingly transports her to a futuristic land full of maglev trains, anti-gravity swimming pools, jetpacks and passenger space travel…all in a very well realized CG landscape that you’d expect. Look, the pull to go all Interstellar on this one is rather strong, so maybe if I just sum up our other characters, you’ll likely get the gist of the movie.
The best place to start is with Athena. [Actually, you started in the best place, with Casey…Athena is step 2. – Ed.] Fine…step 2, Athena. She’s the one that put the pin in Casey’s belongings. Turns out she’s a recruiter for Tomorrowland. Sure, this might fall into spoiler territory, but given the usual subtlety Disney has with their films, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that this small wonder is actually a robot. [Yes, we see what you did there…you made a pun that only people that lived and were aware during the early 80s will get. We’d now like to welcome our ‘elder statesman/woman’ readers. – Ed.] As a recruiter, her function used to be to bring select individuals (scientists, artists and so forth) with sufficient intelligence and/or imagination to contribute to this future utopia, but now she functions to recruit people to fix said utopia as it spirals into dystopia…because, duh, of course it would. But with evil robots in pursuit and Tomorrowland under lockdown, the only way to get back there is…
Frank Walker, former Tomorrowland resident, inventor of the jetpack who had a childhood crush on Athena…played by George Clooney. His story arc is a simple return and redemption arc, a jaded man who’s forced to rekindle his belief, faith, optimism…whatever. Again, you know the type…no surprises here. Still…Clooney’s performance is an enjoyable one and keeps the viewer watching. Oh, forgot to mention, Frank invented something else…a communications device that allows residents of Tomorrowland to reach out into the minds of people in the regular world. Again, rather unsurprisingly, this invention is commandeered and perverted by…
Governor David Nix, played by Hugh Laurie, ends up being a complete waste, which is unfortunate. Look, Disney was never really keen on multi-dimensional villains and as such, well, Nix certainly joins that long line. Given that they chose Laurie to play the role, I hesitate to say character, it feels like a waste because it would’ve been fun to see him go toe to toe with Clooney. This one-note portrayal is heightened by the continued problem within another branch of Disney, the Marvel Cinematic Universe…wherein pretty much every villain aside from Loki has little to no depth. In Tomorrowland, Laurie has no other task than to be your standard British bad guy…all droll and scowly. His plot was to take Frank’s communication device and use it to project images of an apocalyptic future into the minds of normal people so as to ‘scare them straight’…to scare them into striving for the future that Tomorrowland represented. Instead, people blindly and subconsciously marched toward that projected oblivion.
Yeah, yeah, there’s this other crap about how whenever Casey walks in front of some sort of probability detector that the readings always go from 100% to somewhere in the 90% range…giving us that ‘could she be the one’ trope/vibe/whatever…again, delivered with typical Disney subtlety.
Look, I get that a lot of this review sounds negative…and, well, when you look at it as a film, maybe it’s a bit deserved. But what’s important about this film and the reason that I’ll defend it in spite of it being more ham-handed than a fat man at an unlimited Christmas ham pork-a-palooza buffet is that it asks a question that we REALLY need to be asking ourselves: What kind of future do we want? Because right now? It ain’t lookin’ too good. You have movies that have fetishized the apocalypse. You have news media that almost solely focuses on these negative traumatic events that seem to inch us ever closer to said apocalypse…and even if it doesn’t, it CERTAINLY nurtures this ever-growing, all-encompassing, tangible fear that has such a tight grip on…well…damn near everyone anymore. While the questionable writing of the film can certainly be partially blamed for not bringing this question to the forefront, honestly, I feel that the problem resides more in the audience than anywhere else. People don’t want to face up to this question. Everyone is perfectly fine giving into this fear…and why not? There’s so much to be afraid of…right?
No. Don’t go quietly into that night. It’s the only reason I can recommend this film. Watch it and ask yourself what kind of future do you want? Then, yeah, come back here and we can talk further about how Damon Lindelof is a shitty writer and wonder how he continues to get work in Hollywood.