Saturday, May 30, 2015
The future is now! And boy is it confusing.
So I've been sitting on this review for quite sometime now. I saw this movie about a week ago, yet I've been struggling to sit down and write this review. Tomorrowland is an odd movie, a movie that personified something that should be good, but just isn't. The hard part about this movie is just trying to figure out exactly what's wrong with this movie in the first place. On it's surface, the movie is unremarkable, but not bad. Upon closer examination, I can pinpoint exactly where Tomorrowland went wrong, but that still doesn't fully explain why my feelings towards it are so tepid.
Disney for the past couple of years has been in a position they haven't been in quite some time. They're living in a new age where they've made one of the highest grossing animated films ever, Frozen, and are mostly coasting along now trying new and interesting ideas now that they have a renewed box office confidence. They've been fiddling about with live action adaptations of their classic fairytales, making an animated movie about an unknown Marvel comic, and are now turning another theme park ride, Tomorrowland, into a movie. These should all be very experimental and evocative ideas, but I've mostly met all of these movies with apathy. There was no spark in them, no passion that earlier Disney movies, both live action and animated, had. Tomorrowland is joyless and doesn't have a magical sense of wonder in it. In fact, I find this film pretty cynical with a dark outlook on humanity that shouldn't gel with the happier aspects of Disney culture.
Our story revolves around a young girl named Casey Newton, who is the intelligent daughter of a NASA physicist. When the government begin to shut down his NASA base, she trys to sabotage their efforts, but is arrested in the process. However, once she makes bail, a mysterious pin is mixed into her belongings that show a magical and fantastic sci-fi city. Completely enraptured by this world, she tries to figure out where it is, what is it called, and why does it exist. To find out, she goes to see a grizzled man named Frank Walker, played by George Clooney. As it turns out, Clooney was kicked out of the city and is watching several mysterious monitors that are predicting the end of the world, with Casey being the only person who could stop it.
The thing is though, that isn't even scratching the surface of the plot. That's not even getting into the entire set up of the movie, which involves Frank as a kid in the 60's, the intervention of a girl named Athena into both Frank and Casey's lives, mysterious robots, and the whole end of the world plotline. All of these elements are introduced fairly early on, but the story raises too many questions at once. The most interesting aspect of the movie, the idea of the city Tomorrowland, is barely glossed over, yet is the one thing that most of the audience cares about. These visions that are shown to Casey by the pin are interesting, but we never get any real context to them outside of a few throwaway lines. As a matter of fact, we never actually see the city until the last 20 minutes of the movie, and it doesn't not live up to the hype that the movie sets.
What's worse is that the movie tries to juggle all of these plotlines and ideas, but it never is able to give good resolution to any of them. We're told that Frank was kicked out of Tomorrowland, but we never know why. We're told that Frank created a device that would end the world, but we never get a good explanation for what it really is. We're told about what Athena's goal is, but it doesn't make any sense given the world the movie creates. Tomorrowland would rather build its world and create an atmosphere than contend with its plot. To be fair though, the overall tone of the movie is very well done. There's always a sense that everyone is small players in a large event, but the audience is never told what that event is. That works in the movie's favor, since when we see these scientific and fantastical events, we want to know more about them. The problem is that there is no resolution to any of it.
The movie hardly has any action or even large set piece moments. Halfway through the movie we get a genuine action scene, and it's fast paced and fun. That one scene is all we get though until the climax, which is surprisingly underwhelming. Most of the movie is having the intelligent characters that have interacted with Tomorrowland talking techno babble and doing scientific stuff, while we're left wondering just what's going on. It's like if you and three friends went on a treasure hunt, only the directions were written in Klingon. Your two friends can read Klingon, but because you can't, you don't feel like you're contributing anything to the events. You're just along for the ride. So when you finally find that treasure, sure it's exciting, but you never really did anything during the hunt for it.
Despite all of that though, the biggest reason to talk about Tomorrowland is the last 20 minutes, but I can't talk about them for obvious reasons. Tomorrowland is a very plot heavy movie, so trying to explain a majority of the ending would ruin the plot. That being said, most of the plot elements and scientific mumbo jumbo they talk about at the end can best be describes as this. The world is ending because weebly, wobbly, timey-wimey. The world may be ending, but not really, although it kinda is, but we may or may not be responsible for it. Again, trying to explain it would take far too long and leave most people scratching their heads, but I still can't make heads or tails as to why the world is ending in this movie. Humans are responsible at the end of the day, but why are they responsible. It's not because of hubris, because there is no real central antagonist in the movie. It's not because of negligence, because we're shown that most people are aware of the problems in the world, yet have an inability to stop them. At the end of the day, the world is ending because we're told it's ending, so there.
And that's not a hyperbole either. The world is ending because it's the worst case scenario for humanity, so it's just going to happen because we're ignorant to the world ending... although we know that people are trying to stop the world from ending. Do you see what I mean about the movie being confusing? I'm not trying to make it sound more confusing than it actually is, it's just a very confusing reason as to why the world is ending. There is no reason for it to end except for the fact that it's the worst thing to happen to humanity. There is no evil politician or scientist that is trying to warp reality to make it happen, the world is just ending because humanity was going to do it anyway, so it's just gonna happen. How does humanity end the world? Who knows! It just is, so there.
There's trying to be smart, and then there's just not making any coherent sense. Several of the mysteries and plot elements are not resolved in this movie, so we leave with open questions and confused. It's not that the movie is dumb or is trying to be pretentious, but the movie is trying to sound smart, but doesn't understand anything it's saying. It's trying to imagine what smart people sound like, but forgetting that there actually has to be real world references and basic scientific and quantum mechanics for its logic. As it is, it sounds a lot smarter than it is, but is saying nothing at all, especially about the human race. The moral boils down to humanity is driving itself to its death, so we need to unite to stop it. Which raises a whole lot of questions about Tomorrowland itself and the practices of the city.
The actual city itself can best be described as Rapture from Bioshock if it never had Adam or anything to do with genetic manipulation and mutation. It essentially functions as a city for the smartest people in the world for them to pursue scientific research to benefit humanity, but mostly themselves. However, the city falls on hard times and is ruled by a leader that is closed off from mankind and would rather worry about his own philosophical beliefs than the overall state of the world. It's Rapture with a Disney coat over it, yet without any of the unique social commentary about objectivism, free will, and the nature of human arrogance. It's just a hollow husk of Rapture, but without any of the charm.
So in the end, what really is Tomorrowland anyway? Well, it's a mess for starters. It doesn't make sense, the science is nonsense, and the actual city itself is a huge disappointment. The morals are simplistic, and the actual motivation that drives the plot, the end of the world, doesn't make sense. The characters, while acted well, raise too many questions and don't give enough answers, and the movie just feels slow as a whole. It's nothing offensive or morally questionable, just a movie that had a huge amount of aspirations that it couldn't meet. It wanted to reach for the stars and do something great, but instead is just confused about what it's doing. If I could feel sad for a movie, it would be this. This is a genuine disappointment for me, because Tomorrowland could have been much more than it is now. It could have been filled with wonder and intrigue. Instead, it's just a shell of what it could have been.