A Better Tomorrow Starts With Today
A Film Review of Tomorrowland
Who doesn’t like George Clooney? He’s a classy, millionaire, former playboy and philanthropist who’s been in a number of successful films over the course of many years and has disallowed his ever advancing age to deter him. He’s got the Hollywood pedigree as well as individual affirmation by way of his academy award for his supporting role in Syriana (2005). As far as star power goes, George Clooney is a “sure thing,” right? I would just about agree with that notion for just about everything save for a PG-rated, kid centric cinematic adventure. What’s that you say? Tomorrowland is a PG-rated, kid centric cinematic adventure? Darn it! Before those of you who don’t have kids or would simply rather watch Avengers: Age of Ultron for a third or fourth time, stay with me. The formula of Clooney + sci-fi + kids + Disney is certainly uncommon, but is far from a mishmash of completely ill conceived ideas.
From an adult’s perspective, this film starts and ends with Clooney himself as inventor Frank Walker. His character isn’t entirely unsympathetic, but at the same time doesn’t display any unique charisma that isn’t a result of George infusing as much of his own personality to fill out the role. Translation: his character is there, but who cares, it’s George Clooney (but chances are anyone else could’ve played this part for cheaper). Any film that boasts a healthy budget of around $190 million (Disney) dollars isn’t looking for bargains at any level of production so his presence is not a question of affordability; it’s a question of worth. Frank is the key character to this film’s plot, but he isn’t the main character and he isn’t given enough screen time to make for an adequate mentor, so he’s essentially a side-kick and that doesn’t make for a worthy investment regardless of his enhanced star power. That’s not to say his performance was mailed in via UPS (what does brown do for you?). He does an adequate job for a veteran actor who doesn’t have a strong history of sci-fi under his belt and it’s his charm and his signature delivery that prevents the performance from being a wash. Still, Clooney in this role for this type of film feels awkward at best and reaffirms the importance of the casting process in any production. “Any actor you can get” or “the biggest names you can book” are not words that should have been used by those creating this film. This is not Clooney’s best work.
From a kid’s perspective, this film is all about the computer graphics and visual effects that meld otherworldly wonders with live action. I can’t imagine any kid not wanting to be THAT kid that gets to go to Tomorrowland. Most of the budget went into this aspect of the filmmaking process, but film buffs will make note of a lot of “been there” and “done that” much bigger and better in blockbusters of the recent past. But the kids will have plenty of lasers, spaceships, robots and technology to gawk at. There’s a few neat takes on applied sciences of the future (my favorite being the free floating, multi-tiered diving pool). Everything looks bright, clean and colorful and it would have been nice to explore some of these newfangled toys had the plot allowed it.
As for said plot, well, let’s just say it doesn’t have the luster or polish of the subject material it’s attempting to showcase. The story is a garden variety road trip that follows our heroine, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), and her journey to apply her personal confidence and sense of self to “fixing” Tomorrowland’s problem(s). There is no complimentary coming of age or identity crisis tale that bolsters the plot because the story is quite dependent on Casey knowing exactly who she is, what she wants and how she needs to go about doing things. She tells the audience directly in so many words during the film’s opening moments. Newcomer Britt Robertson has a kid safe demeanor about her and easy enough to relate to for boys and girls of any age. Like Clooney, she provides a good enough performance that neither awes nor reviles. I simply wished to have more scenes featuring Raffey Cassidy as Athena in a support role that features the most emotionally poignant moment of the entire film.
Did I mention that House (Roadhouse, that too) was in this film? Yeah, Hugh Laurie’s performance was an afterthought for this production.
For a film going by the name of Tomorrowland, it sure would have been nice to spend more time there. Instead, the audience has to spend the majority of time in Today Land which makes sense from a plot point perspective, but isn’t particularly interesting or entertaining. The strength of the story is hidden in its themes regarding technology, development, society and figuring out how real people fit into the application of everything. Jetpacks are cool, but are they safe and can they be fueled by something that isn’t going to smog the skies with carcinogens? It is good that the film identifies today’s real world problems regarding the environment, the economy, warfare, poverty, hunger, disease, etc; but then what? Being a kid movie, the story doesn’t get past the notion that little (if any) is actually being done to “fix” these things and presents precious little regarding solutions such as the tried and true (and awfully generic) “we need new ways of thinking,” which is equal parts inspiring in its optimism and frustrating in its nonspecific nature. J.J. Abrams’ acolyte Damon Lindelof and kid movie vet Brad Bird are responsible for this screenplay that is decent enough and completely unremarkable at the same time.
I’m not entirely sure of how the true potential of a film adaptation based on a Disney Theme Park attraction area can be accessed without some strong characters at work. I’d say it’s about as good as adapting a movie from a board game. Strong characters can give you Clue while irrelevant characters (and plot, and performances and just about everything else) can give you Battleship. Tomorrowland is not a character driven adventure. It is propelled by gimmickry and circumstance and that might be good enough for some pre-teens out there, but PG doesn’t have to stand for just “pretty good.” This is only a must see for young kids that desperately need to be corralled by mom and dad for some safe summer fun. It’s a solid Netflix or not at all for everyone else.