Review: Tomorrowland – Robots, ray-guns and retro-future

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TomorrowlandIt’s very easy to disregard a movie that was inspired by a theme park attraction, especially one that is really just a multimillion-dollar vanity project of the world’s biggest media conglomerate; nevertheless, director Brad Bird and screenwriter Damon Lindelof have managed to make Tomorrowland a film that captures the fun and magic that the future used to be and they’ve infused it with exciting action sequences involving robots and ray-guns. Who can complain about that?

Tomorrowland’s narrative is clunky at times, with some nonsensical plot elements and more than a couple of excessively dull moments that could have been eliminated altogether, but I loved its reverence for the golden age of science-fiction. The movie often feels like an old pulp issue of Amazing Stories or Weird Science come to life, and it’s those aspects that make this a worthy film experience.

The movie begins ambiguously, with an adult Frank Walker (George Clooney) speaking to the camera about the future and the past, while a tubular counting mechanism counts off time and intermittently stops when Frank speaks to an off-screen Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) about the best way to tell the story. Not the best of openings, but it does make sense after the film is over.

TomorrowlandFortunately, the story soon flashes back in time to the 1964 New York World’s Fair, when Frank is a young boy (Thomas Robinson) bringing a strap-on jet-pack of his own invention (a la The Rocketeer) for submission into the fair. He is denied, but catches the eye of a mysterious young girl, named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who gives the boy a strange medallion with a fanciful “T” engraved into it.

Infatuated by the pretty Athena, Frank follows her onto the “It’s a Small World” ride (which really did debut at said World’s fair), where his medallion activates a hidden hatch that leads him to Tomorrowland. There Frank learns from Athena and the leader of the futuristic dimension, David Nix (Hugh Laurie), that he has been selected to become a part of this community of dreamers and futurist inventers.

We then fast-forward to present day, back in our “real” world, where rebellious, teenage dreamer, Casey Newton, also finds herself in possession of a “T” medallion; but this is an upgraded version that instantaneously transports the girl to the wheat-field outskirts of Tomorrowland, just by touching the coin.

Casey soon finds herself pursued by life-like robots with very cool Buck Rogers style ray-guns, but an un-aged Athena shows up to save the day and take the girl to meet a now aged and paranoid Frank (Clooney), where she learns that the world is coming to an end, but that she may be the key to saving it – if they can just make it back to Tomorrowland.

The plot is more convoluted than my explanation of it here, and you are likely to be scratching your head about it after the movie is over. But it’s not so bad that it hampers from the enjoyment of the film; although the ending has a kind of Peter Pan “I do believe in fairies” quality to it that didn’t set well with my grumpy disposition.

TomorrowlandThe best parts of this movie are its retro-future aesthetics, with an incredible Steampunk side trip to the Eiffel Tower in Paris being one of the highlights, where Jules Verne and Nikola Tesla get their cinematic due.

The cast is fine in this film, with Britt Robertson being the standout (she’s more of the star than Clooney). Thomas Robinson is perfectly cast as a young George Clooney, complete with the older actor’s ingratiating (but somewhat smarmy) mannerisms. There are also cameos by Keegan-Michael Key and country singer, Tim McGraw, of all people.

It has been ages since I experienced the Tomorrowland attraction at Disneyland, and the last thing I remember about it was having my brain scrambled while being violently battered around on the Space Mountain ride; but if you have a nostalgic reverence for the titular theme park, then you might get more out of the movie than I did. Like with the park, the film is fun as a ride, but the context surrounding it rather bland and pretentious. Grade: 7.5/10

Photos © 2015 – Walt Disney Studios