Tomorrowland, Brad Bird’s latest live action movie is a real mixed bag, harkening back to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, a movie I ultimately found disappointing. What doesn’t help here is the inclusion of Damon Lindelof to the writing team. I’m not keen on Lindelof’s work at all. I feel of all the “name” writers in the business, he’s one of the least talented (though Simon Kinberg – Fantastic Four, X-Men: Apocalypse is catching up quickly), moving from one cliché to another as effortlessly as taking the stairs. The plot choices he makes are lazy and meek, as though he’s still a neophyte trying to break into the business by reminding readers of producers of their favourite scenes, yet he’s been around for almost 20 years, and is still unable to write anything that doesn’t come off as derivative. No doubt he and fan-favourite Brad Bird are friends – that’s the only reason I can think of why Lindelof would be part of this. Together, they’ve produced a movie that is decent in some places, but lacking everywhere else.
The premise is pretty solid, though. If I recall correctly, “Tomorrowland” was a concept by Walt Disney himself, that eventually morphed into the EPCOT center, designed to show the latest tech and gadgets that would improve the world, kind of like the E3 event we have these days. It was a lofty, inspiring goal, I think, to show that we’re not just a species of idiots stumbling from one era to the next without a gameplan. Disney’s original goal was full of hope for our future. And so, the seeds of this forms the basis of Tomorrowland – that humans have secretly created a futuristic utopia in a side dimension, accessible by invitation only. Specifically, I feel this particular concept has been stolen from Mark Millar’s Fantastic Four run, in issues 554 – 557, where, a new Earth has been created for the purpose of saving our Earth’s elite and wealthy. There’s another gigantic rip off later in the movie that’s particularly egregious, but this one forms the basis of the entire movie. And it’s here that the premise of Tomorrowland actually falls flat on its face. It’s presented as this place of wonder and awe, and it certainly looks just that, with its high-tech architecture and fantastic technology, yet never in the movie do we actually see what this place is like, other than what I just described. There’s no interaction with the people, or what happens in this utopia. We can see people in it, but by choosing to not explore the place whatsoever, it feels like a gigantic ghost town, utterly devoid of character and purpose. Hearkening back to those issues of the Fantastic Four, it also comes off as something that’s at odds with Walt Disney’s grand vision. Where everyone would be able to see the miraculous, hopeful world of tomorrow, this extra-dimensional place called Tomorrowland is only available by invitation, and that invitation is only to the best and brightest. It’s not for everyone, it’s only for some people, which comes off as just mean-spirited and downright elitist.
The structure of the movie feels odd too – the first act feels terribly long on setup, and the opening Clooney monologue, where he’s interrupted numerous times is annoyingly bad. The first half an hour of the movie is real mess, construction-wise, where we have this protracted introduction to Clooney’s character a kid, then we have another introduction to the actual protagonist. Separately they work okay, but side by side, they only serve to make act 1 bloated and unfocused. After that, though, the movie does pick up, yet most of this is because of the character Athena, in an out-and-out fantastic performance by wunderkind Raffey Cassidy. She steals every single scene she’s in, upstaging her older costars handily. It’s not too much off the mark to say that without her, the movie would be flat from start to finish. I also liked the protagonist, played by Britt Robertson, although it’s painfully obvious that she’s a 20 something actress playing a high school junior. I was distracted by this, but she is pretty charming and has good lines, and like the much younger Cassidy, I found her performance enjoyable to watch.
But really, these are the only good parts of the movie. Despite a good amount of violence and death, everything feels so weightless and underdeveloped. There are a few chase sequences where advanced robots from the other dimension are trying to assassinate Clooney, but they’re depicted as men in black types grinning like idiots which just felt stupid to me, and the fact that they kill a number of people, yet when Clooney eventually makes it to Tomorrowland, all efforts to terminate him suddenly just kind of stop. It’s bizarre to see plot threads so casually tossed aside.
I leave the most dreadful for last, though. I already know that Lindelof and Bird are comic book fans, but that wouldn’t be enough in and of itself to say they ripped off their concept from a tree issues arc in The Fantastic Four, but what reinforces in my mind that they did is in the act 3 motivation for the villain of the piece. It’s an absolutely disgraceful lift from Watchmen – the comic book, not so much the movie. It’s not only lazy, it just shows a true dearth of imagination on the part of Lindelof and Bird, to plumb someone else’s work and repurpose it for themselves, and not have the good sense to disguise it. It’s pretty shocking, really, and I feel as angry about this as I did with Harbinger Down’s shameless repackaging of The Thing as a new work.
At the end, where new invitees are sought for Tomorrowland, the goal is to finally bring that missing sense of humanity to the place, yet it remains by invitation only. Where the place had existed for the techno-elite, it changes hands to the social elite. If the goal is to bring hope back to the human race why continue to plunder our Earth and take them to Tomorrowland? The uplifting end message is supposed to be full of promise and a new start for our species, yet Tomorrowland remains the gated community it was designed to be. There’s a great sense of irony there, but Lindelof and Bird either don’t see that, or choose not to grasp it, and Clooney’s proselytizing at the end just rings hollow.