Scattershot, but original
Disney’s Tomorrowland may be a hot mess of ideas and ambition, but it’s bound to inspire something in many viewers that few films today do, and that’s visual wonder and imagination without a direct assault on the senses. A few weeks back, I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron, but the special effects on display in that particular film were used to show a gaggle of superheros waging complete war through cityscapes, making for quite the visual and auditory annihilation. Tomorrowland uses its incredible special effects to inspire that complex inside of us that finds itself neglected far too often.
The film opens in the early 1960’s with a young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) attending the New York World’s Fair, meeting famous inventor David Nix (Hugh Laurie). Frank has worked to build a jet pack all by himself, though is condemned by Nix for making something that doesn’t pose any kind of value for societal improvement. Following his rejection, he meets a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who gives him a pin with a “T” symbol. Whomever holds this pin is transported to an alternate world known as Tomorrowland, where all the world’s creators, inventors, artists, and geniuses can live free and build whatever they want, unfazed by political/societal restrictions.
Fast-forward years later and we focus on Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a teen girl who is arrested for breaking into a NASA compound in act of sabotage to benefit her father, who works there. Upon release, Casey obtains this “T” pin and finds herself transported to this fantastical world. Upon further research, which results in a very close call with two collectors, Casey winds up meeting Athena, who informs her of the powers that the pin possesses. They wind up reconnecting with Frank (George Clooney) in the present day, who is preparing for world’s end and now bears a cynical attitude after repeated shortcomings and lack of support. Together, the three try to prevent the seemingly imminent world’s end as well as rebuild Tomorrowland into what it once was after its downfall.
Tomorrowland, as a whole, is just as scattershot as it sounds. Co-writer/director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) knows what he wants to accomplish on a visual level, and for that, the aesthetic grandeur can occasionally mask the coherency of the storytelling. Bird and co-writers Damon Lindelof (Prometheus, which explains quite a bit) and Jeffrey Chernov work to predicate the first hour and a half of the film on mystery, catering to your desire to learn more about the fantastical world before you. It isn’t until they try and wrap everything up in the end where things get a bit shaky.
However, your overall response to Tomorrowland will be dependent on which lens you want to view it through. If you become too hung up on the film’s attempts to summarize its world towards the end, you begin to view the film with a pessimistic mindset. If you allow yourself to get lost in the world Bird and company create, admire the visuals, and take in everything that you’re handed from the perspective of enjoying an adventure, then, in turn, you view the film optimistically. I break the reception down this way because Tomorrowland not only caters to the spirit of cinema we don’t see enough of today, but it also reminds us that, when it comes to fantasy films, there are generally two ways to view such films and one of those ways is more fun.