1. Tomorrowland is a movie about optimism and hope and brightness and good cheer, which probably explains why it put me in such a foul mood. It’s like that television evangelist who’s so smiley and squeaky-clean that you just know he’s up to something weird when no one’s looking. This movie spends more than two hours telling you that you’re too dour, that the things you like are too dark, that your negativity is killing the planet. (Quite literally so, in this case.) Which might be an appealing point to make if it had anything to say other than, “C’mon, cheer up!” But it doesn’t. It’s two hours of empty platitudes, dull action sequences, slack storytelling, and endless speechifying about Positivity. I am an optimistic person who, sometimes to my own detriment, ultimately believes that human beings are essentially good. I like people. I like to smile. I like to have have hope. But I wanted to throw this movie through a goddamned wall.
2. Every minute of Tomorrowland, when you think about it later, starts to feel like a scold. The movie makes much hay of the old story about every man having two wolves that live and fight within him, one representing hate and envy, and the other representing love and hope. Which wolf wins the fight? “The one you feed.” Boy, does that story ever get pounded down your throat. Our hero, Frank (George Clooney), is an exile of the Perfect Utopia of Tomorrowland, a place the world’s greatest minds built in order to protect the Earth and create a safe place for exploring humanity’s capabilities. He lives in a ramshackle home covered with televisions tracking the end of the world, with all of life’s miseries playing out before him. He mourns for us, for the fact that we can’t stop killing ourselves because we’re such sourpusses. Why can’t we look to the stars, like him and the young girl and fellow “chosen one” (nicely played by Britt Robertson) trying to save us, and realize that the world is full of hope? When do we lose touch with what is so wonderful about life? Can’t you turn that frown upside-down?
3. I’m not really exaggerating. There are all sorts of plot lines and setups going on here, but that’s what everything comes down to: The world is terrible because we’re all feeding the wrong wolf. Now, I get this message in theory, and I don’t even disagree with it. But it curdles and sours in this case, because it’s so oppressive. This is a Disney movie about how humanity needs more Disney movies—that sort of vague, empty Disney wisdom where we stop obsessing over the complexity of the world and the legitimate darkness out there, and just all go out into the forest and sing. Have a Coke and smile! Tomorrowland’s “good cheer,” in many ways, comes down to nostalgia. All this talk about the 1964 World’s Fair (which I was not around for, but man, considering how often it’s used as the launching pad for American ingenuity and a wistful reminder of What We Once Were, it must have been amazing) and old-timey robots and NASA-driven laments that We Don’t Dream Anymore ... the whole thing feels, at times, like Baby Boomers shaking their fists at Those Kids Today. We were like this before. Why can’t we be again? Well, because you’re not freaking 12 anymore. The world’s tough sometimes. Take this movie, for example.
4. You’d let more of this go if the driving action were sharper and better-focused, but the strange thing about Tomorrowland is that it’s an annoying social point in search of an actual movie. The whole thing is awkwardly structured, with the plot (such as it is) really not kicking in until the movie’s half over, while major characters drop in and out of the narrative at the filmmakers’ convenience. There are two too many framing devices and flashbacks; by the time we get caught up with real time, it’s almost over. And for a movie that’s all about using your imagination—imploring us not to get caught up in the vulgarities of science, but instead crank up our You Can Do Anything Dream Machines—it sure does spend most of its running time explaining everything that’s going on in extended, dull detail. About half of Clooney’s dialogue in the film is describing this new thing we’re seeing to whoever he’s with. Of course, the other half is him staring vacantly into the heavens, wondering how humanity has fallen so far, musing on whether we can hope and dream our way back, so maybe the explanations are a blessing.
5. How did this film go so wrong? The director is Brad Bird, who has proven himself a master storyteller and visual stylist with The Incredibles and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and you can see occasional touches of what he might have initially been going for; the actual Tomorrowland of the film is impressively rendered, and some of the flight sequences have the madcap energy of the best parts of The Incredibles. But the movie meanders, with sporadic fits and stops and detours, never rousing itself to actually entertain. It is too busy letting us know that the other movie—the ones full of destruction and chaos and explosions—don’t have the good heart of this one. You get the sense everyone involved patted themselves on the back afterward, congratulating themselves on doing a movie The Right Way, never lowering themselves to the basest instincts of coarse American culture. It’s a movie that would rather feel good about itself than bother to tell a coherent story or stimulate our senses. Tomorrowland keeps telling you how inspirational it is without ever inspiring anything: It means well, and that’s supposed to be enough. It is very proud of itself. It is very, very proud of itself.
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