Tomorrowland: A World Beyond Review
From the very get-go of Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, in which the audience is introduced to an immersive futuristic world that basks in wide-eyed optimism, I’m hopeful that we’re in for a fun ride. Bird’s previous work includes The Incredibles, The Iron Giant and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol; extremely entertaining blockbusters directed with vigour and urgency. His latest project stars Britt Robertson as Casey, an independent teenager who wonders why her fellow classmates never dare to dream. After her arrest for sabotaging the demolition of a NASA launch site, Casey discovers a pin that magically transports her to a shiny new world. With the aid of a mysterious girl called Athena (Raffey Cassidy) our heroine seeks out former boy-genius Frank (George Clooney in fine grizzled form) in order to return to Tomorrowland.
While I was eagerly on board with the premise and general ‘eyes-skyward’ tone (which preyed heavily on my pro-Interstellar leanings), the initial charm wears off about twenty minutes in, once you realise that the fantastical adventure in a mysterious world is a long way off, and for the most part we’re resigned to watching our trio of leads run/drive/jump around the screen, explaining the plot to each other as they go. One very quickly gets the feeling that all the fun is happening somewhere off-screen.
Tomorrowland itself as an environment is an eye-pleasing design, a blend of Flash Gordon-esque architecture and 'New Earth' from Doctor Who, whilst the Earth-bound locations speak more of Interstellar meets Fanboys (the latter rising to the surface during a sequence in a sci-fi memorabilia store, adorned with copious Star Wars merchandise and some barely hidden Iron Giant models). What Bird doesn’t realise is that – as inviting as these locations are – they mean very little when most of their winning elements are strangled by a poorly-conceived plot and unengaging characters. As much as I adore many of the influences Bird draws from, I refuse to be won over by references to other (read: better) films.
George Clooney playing the miserable git waiting for the world to end is diverting enough, though the effect is somewhat marred when the actual lead character is under-written and has her scenes stolen by Cassidy, playing the bizarre girl sent across dimensions to help save the world. I wish I could praise this particular role more, but to delve into greater detail would also be to plunge into spoiler territory. Hugh Laurie turns up every now and then, almost pulling everything together before being hurried off the stage to make room for poster boy Clooney.
Any character, no matter how unappealing, can be helped by a well-written story…but that’s nowhere to be seen, either. Damon Lindelof’s screenplay is smattered with his less favourable trademarks, including a deus ex machina so convenient even the child audiences won’t believe it. There’s also a very ham-fisted message about the environment (yes, thanks Brad, we know the world is doomed) and a general platitudinous tone that I’m not in the least convinced by.
Tomorrowland is an admirable failure: it’s obvious that Bird and co. are enjoying themselves immensely amongst the retro-future landscapes and high-octane set pieces; it’s just a shame that the characters come second to the effects, and the audience miss out on most of the fun.