‘Tomorrowland’ Review: Stand By Your Mañana
It takes a special kind of daring to not only make a film that aggressively tries to inspire us, but that also calls out every other movie – and all the books, and every damned scientist – for failing to follow suit. Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland is a sci-fi adventure about rekindling our collective hope for a brighter future, but it’s also about how every dystopian nightmare prediction we’ve been fed for decades has been functionally useless to society, no matter how damned good or accurate it was.
So fuck you, Mad Max: Fury Road. Up yours, Brave New World. Eat it, Soylent Green. Brad Bird has directed a call to arms for a brand new generation of dreamers, one that recycles all our old dreams of jet packs and unseemly shoulder pads and repurposes them as revolutionary chic. What’s old is new again thanks to a freewheeling, adventurous screenplay, a remarkable cast and a wholesome and pervasive sense of golly gee whiz awe. This is Tomorrowland, and it’s got a war to wage against cynicism in all of its forms.
Britt Robertson plays Casey Newton, the teenaged daughter of a laid off NASA rocket scientist. She spends her nights sabotaging the demolition of Cape Canaveral’s launchpad, because damn it: dreams. This act of felony espionage, along with her defiant attitude towards her teachers – who preach doom and gloom – puts her in the crosshairs of a mysterious preteen named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who gives Casey a shiny new pin advertising “Tomorrowland.” When Casey touches the pin, she sees a futuristic world of daily space travel and antigravity swimming pools. Picturing it is easy. Getting there is going to be a pain in the ass, especially once the killer robots show up.
Like Brad Bird’s film, these pins are designed to show us that anything is possible, and just like in the real world, making the impossible into a reality is really, really, really hard. Casey Newton fights off androids, breaks into landmarks and badgers an old curmudgeon (George Clooney) until he admits that maybe, just maybe, the clandestine isn’t our destiny. Hearts must be won, battles must be fought, and as difficult as it’s going to be to get to Tomorrowland, the effort is definitely worth it. If we arm ourselves with a positive attitude, it’s even going to be a lot of fun.
One imagines that Brad Bird may have had a similar mindset whilst directing Tomorrowland, hoping that this megabudget product would be worth it if he came even close to realizing his story’s potential. And although some cynics might be disappointed in Tomorrowland’s straightforward messaging, and a plot that takes forever to actually find the futuristic society of the title, they would obviously be missing the point. Getting to Tomorrowland is the real adventure, full of of inventive set pieces, thoughtful revelations and exciting action scenes; living there is ultimate the goal of society itself. As a starting point, it would have no meaning.
Although Bird tells his tale with wit and imagination, his cast does the real heavy lifting. Special consideration must be made for Britt Robertson, who is magical as the determined hero, giggling with glee at every discovery, fascinated and engaged at every new twist. She struts between every plot point with laudable determination, and never lets a challenge get in the way of her ideals. She’s an inspiring hero, and Frank Walker (Clooney) is the man she inspires: a former dreamer who has let little things like plausibility get in the way of making tomorrow a better place. Clooney’s charm, and his bizarre Nick and Nora Charles relationship with the pre-teen Raffey Cassidy, adds welcome zing to Tomorrowland’s second half, and valuable conflict to a subplot that could have been a foregone conclusion. Yes, the spunky teenager reminds the grumpy old man of his ideals. The cast makes it work.
Tomorrowland might seem like an advertisement for a Disney theme park, but it’s not: it’s an advertisement for an ideal. It’s a mission statement that the filmmakers are extending to the whole world: to dream, dream big, and dream optimistically. Because even the act of dreaming can be a whole lot of fun, and the process of making a dream come true is a worthy and exciting adventure in itself. Tomorrowland is fantastic entertainment with a purpose, both honorable and thrilling. Inspiration: achieved.