“Tommorowland” can be admired for what it tries hard to reach for. While being an overcrowding mix of a wondrous fantasy tale, intriguing science fiction ideas, and exciting action scenes, the movie is also equipped with innocent charm and earnest messages on hope and optimism toward, yes, the future of the mankind. There are lovely visual moments in the film I observed with wonder and curiosity, but the movie eventually staggers and fumbles during its last act, and the ending is dissatisfying although it keeps its bright, hopeful statement mostly intact in the end.
After we are told about how a young kid named Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) came across the world he had never imagined at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, the movie moves straight forward to the present. Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is a smart high school girl living in Cape Canaveral, Florida with her NASA engineer father Eddie (Tim McGraw) and young brother Nate (Pierce Gagnon), and she is a lot more enthusiastic than her classmates and teachers about science and what it can do for the humanity. Although the future to come looks pretty dire to almost everyone around her due to continuing global conflicts and global climate disruption, she is not daunted at all by that gloomy prospect shared among others because she firmly believes there is still hope.
On one day, something strange happens, and that is the beginning of her journey. After getting herself arrested by the police during her another attempt to interrupt the ongoing dismantlement process of a NASA launch pad which is no longer used, she finds a badge as she retrieves her personal items during her release. When she touches this object she has never seen before, she sees a big futuristic city beyond the wide field, but this phenomenon only happens to her, not others – and she should be very careful because her body is still in her world technically as she looks and moves around this brave new unknown world.
Like any bright and curious teenagers, Casey becomes more intrigued about this mysterious badge, and we get a wonderful sequence when Casey gets a chance to fully experience the awesome sights of the city which looks like the delightful extension of how people in the 1960-70s imagined their future. Everything looks slick, bright, and, above all, optimistic with various amazing technological developments we can only dream about, and, like those memorable cities we have seen from many SF movies, the city in the movie is terrific to behold for its many interesting details shown here and there around its areas.
Casey wants to know where the badge came from, so she starts her own search. After getting some information from the Internet, she meets two quirky owners of a collectible item shop in Texas, who are played by Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key with the right balance between goofiness and creepiness. She also meets an android robot named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), and Athena, who still looks like a plucky little girl as she did in 1964 while also being as unstoppable as Terminator (I am not kidding), becomes her protector as they are being chased by the evil robot minions sent from Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie).
Through Athena, Casey goes to the reclusive residence of older Frank Walker (George Clooney). While he still can invent many wonderful equipments and gadgets as before (“Home Alone” (1990) has nothing on Frank’s well-guarded house), he now becomes far less hopeful about the future than he once was, for the world originally meant for the better future has recently been turned into something alarming thanks to one of his greatest inventions in the past. Frank does not want to get involved in anything, but he eventually joins Athena and Casey after seeing that there is still a tiny but precious possibility of hope for them and others on the Earth.
The director Brad Bird, who also wrote the screenplay with his co-producer Damon Lindelof, keeps the balls rolling while presenting several impressive moments worthy of your ticket price. The sequence involved with the Eiffel Tower in Paris is both thrilling and awe-inspiring for its deft execution, and I also like that ominous sight of a giant sphere machine hovering over the city. What that machine can do is not much of a surprise (have you heard of tachyon?), but the sequence unfolded inside that machine is something you should see on the big screen like the Eiffel Tower sequence.
But I sensed that the movie was reaching too high beyond its abilities, even when I was constantly entertained by its visuals. Although it did a steady job of building its narrative momentum, it never reaches to the blast-off level despite its interesting ideas including a sly jab on the recent popularity of disaster/post-apocalypse movies. Besides, the movie makes an exit too easy through its frantic action climax, and I was left with several plot holes and questions bugging me while not having enough satisfaction.
The main actors carry the film well with their good performances. While Geroge Clooney brings some gruffness to his engaging screen presence, Britt Robertson imbues an irrepressible spirit into her character, and Hugh Laurie plays his villain character as a reasonable but misguided man who is far more cynical than Frank (you may wonder whether a certain moment in the film is a joke on his famous character in the TV series “House”, by the way). Young actress Raffey Cassidy ably holds her place well among her older co-stars, and I find her character more poignant as reflecting on the nature of her character.
While I cannot fully recommend it, “Tomorrowland” is not a bad movie at all, and you may give it a chance if you have ever had been entertained by what our future will possibly look like. When I visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago a few years ago, I felt like being rejuvenated while awed again by more possible advance through science and technology in the future. As remembering that moment, I understand well what the movie wants to say to me and other audiences. It is not perfect as it admits at the beginning, but that does not mean that we can completely disregard this sincere and ambitious blockbuster film, which is quite a rare thing in these days.