Box Office Democracy: Tomorrowland

It’s profoundly irritating just how lifeless Tomorrowland is. I’m not even talking about how in the grand climax there was clearly no budget for extras so it just seems like three people fighting in a bunch of cavernous empty sets. I mean that one of the biggest movie stars of a generation joined forces with a director that could seemingly do no wrong and they made a movie that always seems like the next scene is the one where things are finally going to kick in to high gear, but instead it just sits in neutral and slowly sinks in to the mud. Tomorrowland is a promise of a future never fulfilled and I wish I could believe that was a really deep metaphor and not a punchless script.

There’s one really fantastic sequence in Tomorrowland set in the 1964 World’s Fair with a young boy presenting his entry in to an invention contest and proposing a thesis on the virtue of imagination and technology’s role in inspiring people to dream, we then get some coverage of the fair followed by our first peek in to the titular Tomorrowland. It’s a killer sequence, it’s funny, it’s compelling, it feels consistent with the ideas behind the theme park the inspired this film. Unfortunately, this is the first ten minutes of the film and it never gets back to that level again. Maybe we shouldn’t even be making movies inspired by theme park sections.

The remaining two hours of movie are just so spirit-destroyingly bland. Plucky young NASA fanatic Casey Newton is a character desperately in need of a character trait deeper than “really likes science” or maybe just a visual aesthetic more complex than “wears a hat.” Then there’s Athena, the young precocious British girl who exists solely to dole out secrets at the appropriate times and not get in the way at others. I’m getting quite sick of the precocious British children cliché and maybe the trope should be discarded completely if you feel the need to have the emotional climax of your film to be a prepubescent girl explaining what love means to a man in his 50s. It gets a little creepy. George Clooney is fine, I suppose, he only ever really performs grumpy and somewhat less grumpy but he has enough raw movie star magnetism to steal every scene he’s in. It feels like a waste of his talents but it also feels a bit like he got tricked in to being in this movie, like he met Brad Bird at a party and gushed about how much he loved Iron Giant and signed a blank contract. There’s no chance that’s the real story but I can’t believe Clooney either liked this script or needed this money.

Tomorrowland is disappointing most of all because it is the first misstep from Brad Bird. He’s had a 16-year run of directing exclusively excellent movies (ok Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is only pretty good) and I wanted to believe he could do that forever. That’s the way I identify most with this movie: the same way George Clooney feels let down by the future utopia that never came, I feel like I’ve been let down by my idealized version of Bird. There are no cities with elevated multi-level pools and ample municipal jet packs, just as there are no Spielbergs who never made Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. We can’t live in a perfect world but we can try to live in an interesting one, and that is not one that includes Tomorrowland.