It has been a while since I’ve been so torn over a film, as much as I am with Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland: A World Beyond. For some time now, my anticipation for this mystery project has been high – due mainly to Bird’s involvement as director and co-writer. Bird, who with films like The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, Ratatoulie and Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol has proven himself to be one of the best writer/directors of the moment, yet Tomorrowland is easily his most problematic feature to date, and could quite possibly end up being this year’s most disappointing film.
Through its development, story details have been kept tightly to the chests of those involved in its making. Co-written by Damon Lindelof, whose previous projects such as Lost and Prometheus have been, frustratingly, marketed as riddles to decipher, the same secrecy has surrounded Tomorrowland needlessly. The problem with a promotional campaign that pokes, prods, and teases you into guessing the story, is that when you finally get to see it and it turns out to be just fairly standard fare, you can’t help but feel a little deflated. And Tomorrowland is fairly standard cinematic fare.
The first thing you’ll notice about Tomorrowland is just how clunky it is. If you can remember the brilliant opening to The Incredibles – a prolouge that was both funny and exciting – the opening to this is its total opposite. We’re introduced to Frank Walker, played by George Clooney, as he attempts to tell us about the future, but is constantly interrupted by Britt Robertson’s Casey Newton, who directs him to be more optimistic. It’s a scene that’s played for laughs but ends up being, frankly, annoying, as it goes around in circles, taking far too long to get to the point.
This sequence sums up Tomorrowland’s main problem – a lot of exposition and world building that takes far too much time of the film’s bloated length. The opening flashback to Walker’s childhood, where we see him initially discover Tomorrowland – another dimension where the brightest and most creative minds are allowed to flourish and thrive – has a great sense of adventure and imagination about it, but is ultimately far too brief in the grand scheme of things.
When we get to the modern day and are introduced to Robertson’s Casey – a intelligent and shameless optimist who thinks we should be doing more to save our planet – we have to put up with what feels like a good hour of riddles and talking, whilst only ever catching glimpses of the titular land. You really feel the film’s over long running time in these moments, as you find yourself aching for the lead heroes to stop driving around in cars and show us some cool stuff.
Even when we finally get to see Tomorrowland in all its glory, it’s practically deserted and void of the wonder we were promised in its marketing. Again, we get more heavy exposition as the big evil plot is finally revealed, and the character’s can’t even get in a lift without it having some kind of monologue to go with it. It’s all very dense and baggy, especially for a Disney film, and that ruins what’s a pretty good concept.
The thing is though, despite all of its flaws – and there are many – I actually came out of Tomorrowland liking it, against my better judgement. The narrative is confused; it’s far too long; and the writing goes from irratating to boring in a matter of seconds; but it is a film with great big sci-fi ideas at the centre of it.
The relationship between Frank and android Athena – who, by the way, kicks a lot of ass – is lovely, touching, and really elevates the film’s climax. There are some moments, like the initial flashback, that are really fun and appeal to my inner child too – it’s just a shame that they come too far and few between to really make the film something special
What I perhaps admire most though, is the fact that the film isn’t all about fighting and explosions, but more about using your brain to save the world. It’s refreshing to see strong female characters on screen whose looks and fighting ability aren’t what defines them, but rather their intelligence and determination. If we’re to talk about Mad Max: Fury Road as some kind of feminist statement, then this too deserves some credit.
It’s perfect by no means, but Tomorrowland: A World Beryond does have good intentions. With a leaner screenplay, with less exposition and more imagination, this would be something truly special – as it is though, it’s far too busy for its own good. It is all over the place, but there are things that I admire about it too. The sense of adventure appeals to my ten year old self; I like how it doesn’t play dumb to its younger audience; and I even like the underlying message at the centre of the film. It’s not perfect, but overtime and further analysis, I think I will enjoy it more and more. Perhaps that makes me a hopeless optimist. Perhaps that’s the point.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com