I was a little disappointed but not totally surprised by the mixed reaction to Brad Bird’s latest film, Tomorrowland. Given that the film was co-written by Damon Lindelof, the mind behind Lost, Prometheus, and a couple of other critically dividing pieces of work (I could barely get past the pilot for The Leftovers). Bird is coming off his first live-action feature film, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, which was a critical and financial success when it was released during Christmas of 2011. And Bird had infamously passed on directing the new Star Wars film in favor of Tomorrowland, which Disney has kept under wraps right until its release. For the longest time, all we knew was that it had something to do with the Disneyland section of the same name, and that George Clooney was in the lead. The consensus on Tomorrowland so far is that people either admire the film for what it is, or feel that it’s a wasted opportunity at doing something great. Here’s my review.
The film primarily is told from the point of view of Casey, played by Britt Robertson, a Florida teenager whose father is a NASA engineer, with the father being played by Tim McGraw. After being arrested for trying to sneak on to NASA property, Casey is given a mysterious pen with a T on it. Whenever she touches this pen, it takes her to this futuristic looking world of science and wonder, but only for a short period of time. She tracks down a man named Frank Walker, played by Clooney, who was a former boy genius who can help take Casey to this place known as Tomorrowland.
Bird co-write the screenplay with Lindelof, and Entertainment Weekly television critic Jeff Jenson helped come up with the idea for Tomorrowland. One of the things that I really admire about this film is its optimism. It’s optimistic about the world, the future, and the bright minds that can help make our world a better place. This goes along with why Walt Disney himself opened up Tomorrowland at Disneyland, which was originally envisioned as World’s Fair-lite, to show off what the future could be if we used the best and brightest minds to their fullest (and also for Space Mountain, my favorite Disney ride). That’s sort of the world that Bird and Lindelof have tried to show on-screen through this film, and in a world where cynical cash grabs make up the majority of box office revenue in Hollywood, its refreshing to not only see an original blockbuster, but one with hope and an idea to strive toward greatness. While Tomorrowland doesn’t accomplish everything that it could have been, there are still a few redeeming qualities to the film.
Robertson, in her first big tentpole, is quite good as the ambitious Casey, although in the beginning her character did get a bit on my nerves, but once her character became a little more fleshed out, it got better (although her jokes were still flat, along with the other attempts of humor in the film). Clooney is great as the old and secluded Frank, where the actor is able to juggle being grumpy and also be charming and sympathetic. It also doesn’t hurt that Brad Bird is one of the most talented and imaginative filmmakers of any generation, as the film is often visually stunning and gorgeous to look at. And it’s also refreshing that Disney released the film in plain-old 2D, no 3D conversion needed. But the biggest problem with the film is its screenplay, and I feel that most of the blame should be pointed toward Lindelof. Damon Lindelof has quickly turned into one of my least favorite screenwriters working today, after a string of disappoints like Star Trek Into Darkness, Prometheus, and The Leftovers, his HBO series. I think Lindelof is a really smart guy, and I admire his nostalgic wit and mind (his panel at the 2012 Austin Film Festival was one of the highlights that year), but he doesn’t know how to write characters properly, or dialogue for that matter. It’s hard to get really invested with any of the characters, and it doesn’t give Clooney, Robertson, or even Hugh Laurie as the film’s antagonist anything to properly work with.
I really admire and respect Tomorrowland for what it is, but the script keeps it from being really unique and special. There’s some good performances, the direction is nice, and the special effects look great, but it all feels a little underwhelming and forgettable. I’m still a huge fan of Brad Bird’s, and I’ll be first in line to whatever film will be next for him (luckily that next film is The Incredibles 2). I’d save your money for this one, but if you’re interested in seeing it, I’d wait till you can rent it.