Tomorrowland is a Pandora’s box

May 28, 2015

Tomorrowland tells the story of Casey Newton (Britt Robinson), an inquisitive and resourceful teen on a quest to reach a futuristic land with the help of disgruntled former boy genius Frank Walker (George Clooney).

The calculating Athena (Raffey Cassidy) completes the dysfunctional trio in a chaotic original concept by Brad Bird and Damon Lindeloff.

The film opens with Frank and Casey telling what seems to be an already resolved story to a hidden audience – which immediately removes any sense of worry and gives an underwhelming sense of “everything will be alright”.

Frank talks about his trip, as a young inventor, to the 1964 New York World’s Fair, where he was recruited by Athena and given a curious pin that transported him to Tomorrowland, a beautiful, futuristic civilisation with skyscrapers, rocket ships and jetpacks, created by the smartest minds in the world. We briefly see this wonderful land before being brought back down to earth (no pun intended) to hear Casey’s story.

Robinson is convincing as Casey (below), who is frustrated by the overwhelming sense of doom being thrust upon her by school, the news and movies of dystopia. In a not-so-subtle reflection of the overall theme, she is obviously seeking a positive change.

Tomorrowland 2

Casey is also concerned by the impending closure of her father’s work; he’s a NASA engineer but there are no more space launches to work on. When Casey single-handedly sabotages the NASA (de)construction site, she earns herself a pin from Athena, but receives only a glimpse of the futuristic world before being told the only way to get there is through Frank.

Time travel, car chases and the blasting of sadistically smiling robots sent by the foreboding Governor Nix all make for exciting cinema. However, more time could be spent on explanation.

Brad Bird (The Incredibles and The Iron Giant) generally has a canny ability to round off movies smoothly, yet Tomorrowland feels rough. There is so much content to be crammed into two hours and 10 minutes that character relationships and development suffer. The only real antagonist is David Nix, who is played by Hugh Laurie, and it is a shame to watch both actor and character chronically underused.

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Clooney fails to make the lead role his own, which is also disappointing. Jaded and betrayed isn’t hard to master – just watch five minutes of Hugh Laurie as Gregory House. The brightest spark is young Raffey Cassidy, whose maturity holds the cast together; she outshines her more experienced co-stars.

Hats off, also, to animators Teddy Newton, Dan Jeup and Andrew Jimenez, and production designer Scott Chambliss. The encounters with the futuristic city left me flabbergasted.

Tomorrowland is a Pandora’s box full of ideas and wonder, and it feels like an honest attempt at kick-starting the utopian movie genre. The result is both refreshing and frustrating, yet still an enjoyable experience overall.

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