Optimism isn’t a terribly popular theme in popular culture today. Most movies, books, and TV shows are neck-deep in depicting scenarios involving zombies, disease, famine, extreme weather, drought, war, and nuclear disaster, to name only a few of the possible choices for how the world might end. The Walking Dead, World War Z, The Last of Us, San Andreas, The Day After Tomorrow, and Left 4 Dead has dominated recent pop culture, and the craze for apocalypse shows no signs of stopping. Tomorrowland counters all of this negativity with an unorganized yet inspiring story about reviving past successes and confronting one’s mistakes. The future can be either wonderful or disastrous, and the movie suggests that it is what we do today that impacts the shape of tomorrow.
Like Pirates of the Caribbean, Tomorrowland takes its name and setting from a Disneyland ride, and the opening of the movie shows off plenty of nostalgia-inducing park scenery as a tribute to its parent company. The story is structured as a speech the audience hears from the movie’s protagonists, who banter and change storytelling perspectives just long enough for the humor to wear thin. As a 10 year old boy, Frank Walker was a budding inventor who discovered Tomorrowland, a playground for the world’s most innovative scientists and artists to create and build in a dimension away from interference from less ingenious and more malevolent people. Decades later, smart and bored teenager Casey Newton stumbles upon a pin that grants her access to Tomorrowland, and tracks down an embittered Frank. The world, we later learn, is about to end in less than 60 days. Some people talk about an invention of Frank’s that is responsible for the coming catastrophe, but the origins of the disaster never become clear. Frank was banished from Tomorrowland, and the rationale for his forced departure is also an eternal mystery. His former benefactor, David Nix, now rules as dictator of a decrepit Tomorrowland that no longer looks like the starship Enterprise with trees, but more like the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Its residents have disappeared, yet for some reason walk out again when the city is saved in the end.
One may have noticed that a lot of plot points get introduced and never expanded on, and this is the movie’s most glaring weakness. Seemingly mindful of this, the movie presents so many other terrific qualities that problems with the plot can be somewhat condoned. There isn’t really a need for so many scenes of fighting and avoiding killer robots, but they are thrilling to watch. The protagonists reach Tomorrowland by splitting the Eiffel Tower in half and taking off in a rocket, which ranks as one of the movie’s most awesome moments. Most crucially, Tomorrowland dares to try to make audiences have hope for the future. We live in an era when most entertainment loves to be cynical and make viewers feel miserable, whether by featuring antihero protagonists, morally gray scenarios, or inconclusive endings. Tomorrowland critiques this love affair with grim and dark storytelling, calling it a self-fulfilling prophecy that blind people from imagining and building a better world. Without being corny or immature, the film’s finale is a call to action that praises the benefits of positive thinking. Even the most hardened devotee of pessimism will be hard pressed to remain unmoved.
It is a huge irony that even though it gives its name to the movie, Tomorrowland never gets a prominent role in the film. The glorious scenes of Tomorrowland when it is a technological wonderland teeming with great minds are later exposed as an illusion. For most of the film, the current Tomorrowland is empty and crumbling, but no one ever bothers to say how it came to decay. We keep hoping to see more scenes of hologram maps and jetpacks, but they never reappear, and the entire place ends up being a wasted opportunity. There are no fun facts about how the city functions or what exactly goes on in the city, and the metropolis is merely a very big background rather than an active player in the story.
Fortunately, the film keeps things lighthearted with science fiction, humor reminiscent of the type found in the Men In Black movies, and Britt Robertson plays Casey with both grit and vulnerability, avoiding the damsel in distress figure that so many female characters occupy and presenting an intelligent and determined young woman. She is the younger and more idealistic foil to Frank, whose cynicism, not even George Clooney’s talents can prevent from becoming annoying. The film reveals a big surprise in Athena, the robotic girl portrayed by Raffey Cassidy. Athena propels the plot at crucial points and is a protagonist of equal importance and power alongside Casey and Frank, and her role reveals plenty of pathos and depth in Frank. Sadly, their relationship is another aspect glossed over in a superficial manner.
The great paradox about Tomorrowland is that even though its plot is a convoluted mess and many details remain hopelessly undefined, the action is so fun and the passion of the actors is so intense that the shortcomings don’t feel so troublesome. Many present details feel unnecessary and many absent details feel necessary, but one forgets about all that during the fights with the robots and navigations across Earth. After finishing the movie, one gets the feeling of wanting to do something great for the world, and for that, Tomorrowland deserves props.