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Movie Review: Tomorrowland

tomorrowlandThere is an annoying trick to Tomorrowland that serves as a defense mechanism it sorely needs: because it seeks to be so generically inspirational, so blindly optimistic, a detractor can easily be labeled as simple cynic, as one of the villains in this family-friendly adventure. Such naysayers, in real life and in the film, are the reason the world has entered a dark place from which a tragic end is unavoidable; so says Tomorrowland

One starry-eyed optimist with a youthful sense of imagination and thirst for knowledge, however, may save the earth from destruction.

Brad Bird’s baggy, tone-shifting film that he co-wrote with Damon Lindelof finds the inquisitive Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) daughter of a soon-to-be unemployed NASA engineer, as a top recruit for the secret scientific community known as Tomorrowland.

It was at this shiny, shimmering escape some many decades earlier that a young boy named Frank found amazement and wonder, having himself crafted a homemade jetpack for the mere purposes of fun and inspiration. It’s that twinkle in the eye, that unbridled passion for boundless discovery that makes certain creative types in our world targets for Tomorrowland, which is meant to exist in  parallel dimension, accessible by certain tokens or rides or portals – whatever is convenient for the plot.

Sadly, this young boy finds disillusionment, does something wrong, leaves this beacon of hope and discovery in order to grow up to be a curmudgeonly George Clooney. He is found holed up in the middle of nowhere by Casey after she starts an investigation following a brief encounter with this magical world. It seems Frank has lost his idealism, and what’s more, it seems like Casey is the only one in the world who has any left.

Indeed, this two-hour-plus overt metaphor, which literally has a doomsday clock that predicts the end of hope, is filled with both excitement and boredom, curious commentary and banal exposition. None of the science fiction really makes any sense as answers to problems for our characters present themselves minutes before they are needed, but the message is simple, clear,and far too blunt.

We get it; we need to be more positive.  Clooney, along with Tomorrowland recruiter Athena (Raffey Cassidy) keep the film from flying off its rails; it alternates grave and cartoonish. Frank and Athena have a more interesting relationship that anything Casey does – she just asks questions – yet still there are chases and goofy robots and portholes and all sorts of random, mysterious things going on.

A speech by Tomorrowland exec Nix (Hugh Laurie) is equally parts hokey and potent, some sixty seconds or so of preaching about a world where humans have seen how their action negatively affect the planet, but do nothing to change.

He even references video games as distractions, for consumers crave chaos and destruction in their media – he doesn’t mention anything of summer blockbusters.

Tomorrowland in general and Casey specifically are annoying in its blind cheer, championing the idea of optimism as the simple solution to all that ails us. It isn’t that this idea is a naïve one; instead it’s wrapped up in a bloated film that swells and lags, finds its central character insufferable, and panders to the shallowest among us. When we get to any rousing speeches, any call to action, the film has drained itself of fun, and exhausted the audience.

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