Brad Bird has delivered pretty much nothing but grand slams with the movies he’s made, from The Iron Giant to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Tomorrowland is more like a double, it has some fun ideas but it never really comes together in a satisfactory way.
The plot is a little convoluted to explain but Tomorrowland is basically in another dimension where the best and brightest work to make the future a better place. Frank Walker (George Clooney), was recruited to Tomorrowland as a boy but was banished for creating something “bad”. Years later, super optimistic teen Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is given a pin that shows her Tomorrowland and with the help of a robotic girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), they find Frank and must get back to Tomorrowland to save the world. The message of the movie, that is spelled out explicitly in a villainous monologue toward the end of the movie, is that we used to be super optimistic about the future. The World Fairs had visions of jet packs and moon colonies but now we are obsessed with the apocalypse, because it doesn’t require any effort to get to that future, we just have to give up. There’s a literal reason for this in the movie but the solution to stopping it is laughably simple. Bird has a good point but I feel like instead of a 2 hour lesson about it, I wish he had just made straight up whiz bang sci-fi movie like The Rocketeer.
The best parts of Tomorrowland are when Bird unleashes his creativity with the Tomorrowland tech. The highlight of the movie by far is the sequence where Casey and Frank must escape Frank’s house, which is being attacked by evil robots. There are all kinds of great gadgets and traps Frank has set up in his house and there’s a kinetic energy to that scene that never really happens again in the movie. Most of the movie is scenes of Casey asking questions and then getting exposition dumps by either Athena or Frank but there are some fun scenes of discovery, like when Casey first gets to fully experience Tomorrowland or when the true nature of the Eiffel Tower is revealed. With all the setup, the ending is still pretty weak, most likely due to co-writer Damon Lindelof’s tendency to have great setups but whiff the endings. It turns into just a standard fight against the bad guy and having to blow up the bad thing.
Acting wise, Clooney is just a grumpier Clooney but still what you’ve come to expect from Clooney. Britt Robertson is a little annoying at first but her optimism starts to win you over as the movie goes on. Raffey Cassidy has a great dry sense of humor as the robotic Athena and gets to be basically a pint sized Terminator in some of the action sequences but there’s an underlying creepy factor since Clooney was in love with her when he was a boy in Tomorrowland and now, there’s scenes where old Clooney is being bitter and jaded to what is still an 11 year old girl. For some reason, Tomorrowland’s robot technology basically either produces British kids or creepy middle aged men.
Tomorrowland has some fun sequences and the message it’s trying to convey is interesting but there’s just something about it that never comes together like all the other Brad Bird movies. It might be trying to do much and, as such, it feels kind of scattershot, with it’s summer blockbuster bits conflicting with it’s serious message bits.