With no time to borrow,
The future may very well sink into sorrow.
It’s hard to predict
When our views contradict,
And the fears that some carry are dreams others picked.
The future is ever
In danger; however,
We mustn’t believe it’s a futile endeavor.
Are trends that we set then
The kind we’ll regret? Then,
It’s clear dark tomorrows will come…if we let them.
MPAA rating: PG
What happens when everyone says a movie is bad and you like it anyway? Every review I read of Tomorrowland painted it as an unwieldy flop in which every positive element was spoiled by a negative. Thus, I skipped it, preferring to spend my 130 minutes on something more critically favored. Yet, when I finally gave it a chance, Tomorrowland proved to be a highly enjoyable ride, a sci-fi wonder in which every negative had a positive to mostly redeem it, at least in my opinion.
Beginning at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, young Frank Walker presents David Nix (Hugh Laurie) with a homemade jet pack that isn’t quite fully functional, and Nix’s girl companion Athena (Raffey Cassidy) is impressed enough to invite Frank to the titular technology wonderland. Cut then to teenage Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), who goes out of her way to keep alive the hopes of the Space Age by prolonging her engineer dad’s NASA contract through sabotage. She’s an incorrigible optimist, unwilling to bend to the downbeat world, and when Athena appears again to give her a mysterious pin and a glimpse of Tomorrowland, Casey is eager to pursue it. Joining with a bitter, grown-up Frank (George Clooney), they embark on a thrilling chase to reach the other-dimensional utopia where all does not seem to be well.
I’ll focus first on everything Tomorrowland has going for it. All the actors excel, especially Raffey Cassidy who shines in a wise-beyond-her-years type of role. As a director, Brad Bird also knows how to direct a visually exciting film. With its jetpacks, robots, and floating swimming pools, the striking metropolis of Tomorrowland that appears whenever Casey touches the pin has wonders tailored to both 1960s and present-day tastes. In addition, many aspects of the film feel inspired by the intrigue of Men in Black, incorporating imaginative gadgets, geeky thrills, and futuristic plot devices hidden in plain sight. With all the killer android chases and high-tech detours, it’s easy to let the plot carry you along and ignore the fact that it’s not really going anywhere worthwhile. By the time we see Tomorrowland itself, it feels like a hollow piece of false advertising, though that does make sense for the plot. I do wish that we were able to see Tomorrowland the city as more than just an unreached potential, but it’s a case of the journey overshadowing the destination, with the journey being pretty entertaining.
I see what others have criticized about the uneven plot, the disappointing goal, and the borderline creepy relationship between Clooney and 12-year-old Raffey Cassidy, and they’re not wrong. But Tomorrowland is a prime example of a film that depends on how much the viewer is willing to let such faults bother them. While the two films are nowhere near the same league, I could point to 2012’s Les Miserables as another such film; half of viewers complained about the singing of Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe and couldn’t take the constant singing seriously, while the other half (me included) were captivated by the film’s emotional and musical power. I can’t say those of the other opinion are wrong; their objections just didn’t ruin the film for me. Sometimes, if the majority of a film delights, a half-baked ending can be forgiven. And the objection about Clooney and Cassidy depends entirely on the strength of your suspension of disbelief; based on Athena’s character as written, it doesn’t have to be creepy.
What Tomorrowland tries to be is an antidote to the constant stream of dystopian fiction in our media. Zombie outbreaks, totalitarian governments, natural disasters—it seems that Star Trek is the only proposed future that is actually worth looking forward to. Tomorrowland takes that fatalism literally and suggests that such warnings are more harmful than good if no one heeds them, a cautious lesson worth more than a casual thought. Perhaps, the film insists, optimism itself can change the world for the better. Yes, it sounds corny, going overboard in the soapy commercial-like final scene, but if the constant pessimism of grim social commentaries can captivate audiences, can’t the polar opposite have its day too? I recognize the flaws of Tomorrowland, not least of which are smacks of elitism in the recruiting of the best and brightest to populate a separated utopia that doesn’t seem to directly better the world at large, but it appeals to the dreamer, the hoper, and the lover of sci-fi adventure. That’s good enough for me.
Best line: (Casey) “There are two wolves, and they are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. Which wolf wins?”
(her dad) “Come on, Casey.”
(Casey) “Okay, fine. Don’t answer.”
(dad) “Whichever one you feed.”
© 2016 S.G. Liput
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