I will say I am not the most ardent and swiftest one to call out logical inconsistencies in films. The medium, itself, is constructed off illusion and a sense of disbelief, so there is a certain amount of leeway I offer to films from the onset. Nevertheless, if the illogical anvil weighs down my suspension enough…well, it breaks. When it comes to Brad Bird’s “Tomorrowland,” the weight slowly culminated into something I could not handle and, thus, my enjoyment had been suffocated. This could just be me, but I am still wondering why they would create a totally separate world in Tomorrowland if they want to save the real world that is supposedly condemned to damnation. Maybe I missed it in a bit of dialogue. Maybe I didn’t care.
There is way too much to try and articulate when it comes to the story and its many constituents, but there is an entrepreneuristic, ideal, and capitalist society that was built in another dimension called Tomorrowland as a way to consolidate all the dreamers and doers of the world. Of course, the society, itself, isn’t really detailed enough. In fact, Tomorrowland as a complex and symbolic structure remained elusive for most of the duration of the film. Nevertheless, Frank Walker, played by George Clooney, entered this new world as a kid back in 1964 with the help of a courageous girl, Athena (played effectively by Raffey Cassidy), who actually ends up being a robot. Excuse me for interrupting the synopsis again but the existence of these robots never was actually explained either. Why does it matter? Well, when Athena, now present day, tries to recruit a new girl, the ambitious Casey (Britt Robertson), there are robots that want to kill her, even going as far as to deploy these secret service androids who amusingly look like 1950s advertising models. Where are the dreamers and doers? Some of it is explained, I think, like as to why Frank was kicked out of Tomorrowland, but a lot of it isn’t. There is one point where Frank tells Casey to stop asking questions and just be amazed. Is that a reflective indication to explain to the audience to stop asking questions? Isn’t asking questions the method of discovery? Never mind.
There is a lot of amazing imagery to look at but it is always shrouded in the veil of nonsense. If Tomorrowland was an enclave for the world’s brightest TED talk presenters (I enjoy TED talks, mind you) designed to inspire people, why did they build a ginormous city in an alternate dimension? Is it hinting at the possibility that there really isn’t hope in the real world? Yes, it is trying to invoke the sense of optimism of a constructive and ideal future world in the same vein, cinematically, as a film like “Things To Come,” which is a brilliant essay film, if you will. But you want to know the big difference between these two films? One of them takes place in real Earth. It was also a film made in the late 1930s as a reflection of the way things were at that time. I can’t get around this huge logical mole that screams even when being silent, this burden the film places on me to accept that this ideal society would disconnect itself from real society and they become optimistic. I would be optimistic too if I was living in Tomorrowland as opposed to the real Earth, but isn’t that ignoring the issue? Brad Bird almost seems afraid of the material presented before him or at least the thematic significance which is a shame because his “Iron Giant” compellingly latched onto the optimistic science fiction fervor with determination. “Tomorrowland” takes way too long to actually make its point as Frank, Casey, and Athena spend so much time trying to get to Tomorrowland in a “National Treasure” sort of trajectory, except with a lot less clarity. We are shown so much but nothing is really revealed. This isn’t necessarily a bad way to engage your audience but when your audience has no idea why Tomorrowland is what it is, the premise of such a thought experiment becomes muted.
Again, some of the imagery is quite beautiful but Tomorrowland is only shown in its glory briefly. We see it in ruins most of the time…which is also not really explained that well. Again, I am almost sensing that there is always a hint that the story itself doesn’t believe in what it is preaching (and it does preach) but, by the end of it, all I see is a continuation of a massively illogical plan to rid the world of its evils. The film hides these weaknesses in the shock treatment it serves through both Athena’s character and the inexplicable machinations of getting to Tomorrowland without being traditionally recruited. Athena is a robot and also a super soldier of sorts whose main goal is to recruit these dreamers and doers. While her interactions with Casey are, in isolation, very funny and surprising, in hindsight it is not helping me feel comfortable with any sort of thematic prominence. Athena also may or may not have fallen in love with Frank when he was young. Of course, this sort of story thread would open doors to vastly different arenas of the human condition and Bird touches upon it enough to make it effectively irksome in moments of the film that had developed a brisk and elevating pace (make your way to the film “Artificial Intelligence” for such an exploration). Ultimately, the existence of Athena made me wonder and ask questions about her, ignoring the real wonderment and inquiry that needed to be asked by the audience.
“Tomorrowland” brings forth a story that is admirably ambitious. I personally celebrate a sense of optimism and a time where pessimism dominates and is fed upon. There is an instance where Frank’s character becomes disillusioned about Tomorrowland. This might have been an interesting avenue to explore, how a ‘perfect’ society could be jaded. Yet the script calls for a terribly explained revelation hidden within Casey…I think. Either way, the biggest problem with this film is no foundational relationship between Tomorrowland and the real world. The film tries to beat around the bush with its action-packed antics, but there is a rift between the concept of the ideal world and the execution into a viable storytelling symbol. This disconnect between ideal and actuality is inexcusable for a film with such a message, which it sometimes laughably generalizes (Note: try not to equate the ‘epidemic’ of obesity with the epidemic of starvation). It exposes a number of problems that I cannot even talk about because this review, already, is getting way too long. There are things to like here, there really is, but if you keep your ears open and become too inquisitive, the film decomposes right in front of you. An irony for a film that supposedly calls for inquisitiveness.