I’ve been known to tell people that movies are my church. The powerful feelings that some people get from going to a place of worship are the best way I can equate what happens to me when I see a really great film. I may have to amend this description because people might misconstrue that sentiment as, “Oh, you must enjoy when a movie is like a sermon!” That’s what Tomorrowland felt like: a preachy bit of prepackaged optimism from the Mouse House.
To be fair, the topic that it’s preaching about is impossible to argue against. Empowering people to look for the best in themselves and use their talents and visions to shape the world into a better place is all fine, but when it’s presented the way it is in Tomorrowland, it doesn’t make for a very compelling adventure. It comes off as cheesy and even a little disingenuous thanks to the film acting as a giant advertisement for a theme park.
That message might be better received if the film had any characters that you could latch onto. Tomorrowland has a serious protagonist problem thanks to it setting up one lead (George Clooney’s Frank) and then shifting gears to another (Britt Robertson’s Casey). The movie ultimately ends up being Frank’s story, but it also wants Casey to be the audience’s proxy. This creates a narrative divide as the movie heads into the third act that robs the finale of almost any weight. This is doubly depressing because both Clooney and Robertson are really good in their roles, and it’s a shame to see them swallowed up by a really boring plot.
There are elements of the film that work in the moment, even if they don’t have any real staying power. Damon Lindelof’s tendency to tease his audience is utilized surprisingly well as the mystery of what happened to Tomorrowland is pretty intriguing, but as is often the case with the former Lost co-creator, the payoff is disappointing. There are two fun action scenes early in the film involving evil androids (the raid on Frank’s house is easily the highlight of the film), but they left me puzzled as to why they couldn’t capture the same inventive spirit for the film’s finale.
I assume that’s because Brad Bird was more focused on making sure the film made its points so abundantly clear that no one could walk out of the theater and question what the movie was about. I know this is ostensibly a film aimed at kids, but does that mean doing away with subtext entirely in order to hammer the message home? Having Hugh Laurie’s villainous Governor Nix monologue on about how humanity has accepted the eventual apocalypse is one of the most eye-rolling moments yet in 2015 (and there are a couple eye-rolling lines in this movie, including a horribly clunky use of the “whichever wolf you feed” parable). For a movie that is all about thinking forward, it doesn’t seem interested in doing so with its script.
Tomorrowland is more sermon than cinema, and that’s a shame because where the movie is coming from is a place I’d love to see more movies embrace. If the filmmakers could have wrapped those philosophies into a story worth sitting through, we might have had something really special. Instead, we’re left with a movie that looks nice and has a few bright spots thanks to the performers and some light action sequences, but is otherwise extremely forgettable.