Sometimes you go to a movie with high but reasonable expectations and are positively shocked by how much you hate it. Tomorrowland is one of those times.
It starts with blatant Disney promotions, gets lost in a convoluted story, forgets to include its star (George Clooney) for a good hour, guilts us with a lecture on how people don’t appreciate Earth, and ends with a bunch of faux science that makes no sense. It’s so head-scratchingly bad it’s unbelievable.
Similar to Pirates of the Caribbean, the story is loosely inspired by Tomorrowland at Disney theme parks. This explains why Space Mountain is in the film’s poster, the song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” is heard in the beginning, and the “It’s A Small World” ride is how young Frank (Thomas Robinson) first gets to the alternate dimension known as Tomorrowland.
Tomorrowland is where the best and brightest are invited to explore their ideas without distraction from those of lesser intellect. At the 1964 World’s Fair the young and charming Athena (Raffey Cassidy) recruits Frank to join her and her father figure (Hugh Laurie) in Tomorrowland. Frank goes, flies through the air using a jetpack, and none of it is interesting.
In the present day Athena (yes, the same “girl”) gives a pin to Casey (Britt Robertson), who glimpses Tomorrowland but is unable to stay there. So begins an hour-long Clooney-less journey in which Casey longs to get to Tomorrowland and Athena only helps when required by the plot to do so. This section doesn’t just drag — even with fun cameos from Keegan Michael-Key and Kathryn Hahn — it grinds the movie to a halt. Ultimately Casey finds Frank (Clooney) and off to Tomorrowland they go.
It’s important to note that Casey is never told why Athena wants her in Tomorrowland, and Frank’s role isn’t fully explained until about 30 minutes remain in the film. That’s far too long to keep the audience waiting for clarity, especially when the action scenes are mediocre at best.
Director Brad Bird, who made the great movies Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Incredibles, and The Iron Giant, reportedly passed on the chance to direct Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens so he could make Tomorrowland. Too bad he didn’t write a better script. He should’ve realized it was diluted with backstory and endless exposition, and that it lacked cohesiveness even at its best moments. For those who know how good Bird can be, this disappointment is palpable.
Then again, he should’ve known better than to write a script with the grand master of stories that go nowhere, Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus), whose mind is where good ideas go to die. Exception: He is one of three credited writers on Star Trek Into Darkness, and that movie is awesome.
Regarding Clooney, it’s not just his lack of screen time that’s jarring. It’s downright unsettling when Frank has to express affection for Athena, who looks like she’s 12 (no kissing, just emotional longing). Clooney handles it as well as he could, but it’s an awful thing to ask him to do.
The visual effects are unimpressively glossy and cartoonish, meaning everything looks profoundly fake. Being one visual step ahead of The Jetsons is not an accomplishment in 2015. Everything about Tomorrowland is a disappointment.