Most science fiction focuses on the negative aspects of life, portraying dystopian worlds and situations that are filled with potential for drama. There’s a good reason why utopia isn’t used anywhere near as often, and that’s because utopia is quite boring.
And that is why Tomorrowland falls a little flat. While trying to portray the future with an air of hope and not fall into the dystopian trap, it writes itself into a corner that is ultimately difficult to escape from.
George Clooney is Frank Walker, a guy who as a young boy got to experience the technological marvel that is Tomorrowland. That is, the sort-of parallel world and city of Tomorrowland and not the Disney ride of the same name. And yes, before I go any further, this is indeed based on that theme park ride. Don’t be expecting any miracles like the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. And I expect a collective sigh of discontent when people notice that the script comes from Damon Lindelof. I have nothing against his work, for what it’s worth, but I think that people still feel burned by how Lost ended.
Britt Robertson is Casey, a girl who finds a way to see into the world of tomorrow and seeks Frank’s help in paying a proper visit. Meanwhile they are hunted by the robotic forces of Tomorrowland’s custodian Nix (Hugh Laurie).
I realise that my summary of the film plot may make it sound more interesting than the reality. There isn’t that much of a hunt, for starters. More of a mild chase. The rest of the story is tied up in the family problems of both Casey and Frank, and a possibly creepy link between the latter and Athena, a young girl from Tomorrowland.
That’s not to say there are not positives. While the overall narrative has issues, individual elements of Tomorrowland do work well. This includes a well placed, and very British, swear word from Hugh Laurie. Performances are solid throughout, as you might expect, and Brad Bird has a good grasp for providing exhilarating set pieces.
As Brad Bird’s second live action feature after some rather excellent work in the animated features The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, and the box office juggernaut of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, there was a certain expectation that this would hit a similar benchmark. The reality is, sadly, somewhat different. While his style works very well indeed, it’s the script that does him no favours. It’s that whole utopia vs dystopia thing again.
What Tomorrowland is telling us is that children are the future, and/or that we should embrace a similar attitude to the world that children have. As we grow older we become more jaded, more cynical, more inclined to put up the barriers and shut ourselves off from the world. Children don’t have that filter. They look on the world with wonder and hope and, arguably, that’s how we as adults should look on the world too. If we don’t, then a utopia will never exist and we begin our inexorable descent into the dystopia the filmmakers want us to avoid.
But then given a choice, I’d rather watch Mad Max: Fury Road for that very reason.