Tomorrowland (Brad Bird, 2015)

Only titularly influenced by the popular Disney theme park, Brad Bird’s second live-action feature is one of hammy optimistic priority, focusing on teenage dreamer/rebellious wunderkind Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) as her unfailing drive to change the world leads to both general and self-discovery. Thanks to a “T”-emblazoned pin and its unveiling of a mysterious futuristic utopia, Casey’s foreseeable search for answers lands her smack in the lap of curmudgeonly genius Frank Walker (George Clooney). Given Frank’s irrevocable link to the locale in question, the duo soon becomes codependent as Casey’s timely emergence promises to usher in the revolution two worlds desperately need.

During an arguably pivotal moment in Tomorrowland‘s ineffectual narrative, the young Raffey Cassidy’s Athena states “It’s not personal, it’s programming.” Barring how this quote’s significance is flipped later on, it’s in this moment that I became hip to Tomorrowland‘s convoluted yet reductive anti-doom-and-gloom bullshit. It could be that this particular film was commissioned to counterbalance the ceaseless deluge of dystopian fare – a topic referenced rather abundantly – as a means of studio-piloted programming, however the manner in which this objective is approached rids the entire production of a discernibly involving personality. A bit on-the-nose, certainly, but a valid point nonetheless as the script’s upbeat “We can do it!” mantra seldom resonates as anything but cheesy, simplistic and redundant.

It’s at this point that we’re faced with the script’s over-reliance on pseudo-science and corresponding, moreover requisite visual panache. Techno wizardry and its aesthetic implementation remains an unfailingly competent source of wonderment throughout Tomorrowland, especially during several particular latter-half scenarios. Although these key sequences are almost ruined by Robertson’s Casey’s insistence on asking question after question (after question) to aid both her and our comprehension, base-level visceral engagement perseveres until the next implementation of eye-rolling “Chosen One” tropes and the like.

I don’t mean to discredit Tomorrowland‘s overarching insistence that optimism deserves its place in today’s society. A latter-act spiel by a tyrannical other-dimensional overseer puts things concisely in perspective and, although it’s easy to discern exactly where we went wrong throughout the case he’s making, the film in which it’s articulated lacks the heft needed to leave a lasting impact. It lacks a necessary means of balancing between the rudimentary message it conveys and padded-out expository zaniness to help establish it as more than a middling misfire. The performances are fine – Clooney and Cassidy’s especially – and a familiar but effective aesthetic adds what it can, but make no mistake: Tomorrowland does little to revolutionize genre filmmaking in the slightest beyond a basal mirroring of dystopian ideology.

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