There came a point in time during Tomorrowland where I realized: this is it; this is all there is. Director Brad Bird’s latest is actively admirable, and begins colorfully setting up the idea of “Tomorrowland,” a place where the world’s brightest and best are recruited to make the world a better place. Casey Newton (Brit Robertson), a brilliant and quirky teenager, finds Frank Walker (George Clooney), a once-child prodigy turned cynic, in her pursuit of the magical city after getting a taste thanks to a magical pin. The result is a film that is often amusing, often humorous, and yet devoid of any real gravitas or wonder.
This is surprising given Brad Bird’s track record. A proven master as a director of animation pictures, his filmography has no shortage of heart, passion, or awe-inducing moments. With Tomorrowland he furthers his preoccupation with old school sensibilities dealing with high technology. It’s an ambitious and admirable film, championing optimism about the future in a world that seems to fear it (in one scene a teacher preaches about the impending dystopia, referencing George Orwell’s 1984, and yet stands stumped when confronted by Casey about a potential solution). Hope is hardly a new theme in film, and Bird has displayed it stronger before, but Tomorrowland nevertheless boldly wears its heart on its sleeve. I applaud it for that.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the vehicle carrying this admirable heart feels so bland and banal aside from its striking visuals. Much of this is due to the clunky pacing. The first hour drags on, hanging on by a thread to the charisma Newton and Cassidy (a spunky “robot”), and nothing else. The pair share several amusing moments, but waiting for Tomorrowland to gain narrative propulsion, or truly engage, is futile. Clooney gives it his all, and his first encounter with Newton ranks as the film’s best scene, which is unfortunate. Quippy jokes and lush visuals aside, Tomorrowland is simply forgettable. A jarring tonal shift in the third act attempts to inject forward momentum and add emotional heft, but only ends up detaching further. Scenes and moments meant to hit the heart with emotion and spectacle, cued by swelling music from Michael Giacchino, come off cold and awkward. I can handle the didacticism, due in part to Bird’s earnestness, but Tomorrowland is so utterly banal and unspectacular that I left the theater not inspired towards creativity, as was clearly the intention, but disappointed.
★★ out of 5