Movie Review: Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland: a parallel dimension somehow accessed by Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla in 1887, in which the world’s most brilliant inventors and creators built a utopian, futuristic city to solve all the world’s problems. In the 1960s, the people of Tomorrowland were ready to share their technology with the world. But then something went wrong.

Today, the future looks bleak. All the news is bad, and no one is trying to push the limits of human achievement anymore. Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a brilliant and tech-savvy teenage girl, is one of the few optimists lefts, and when she tries to stop NASA from tearing down the old launch pads, she is approached by a robotic girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) to recruit Tomorrowland exile Frank Walker (George Clooney) to try to fix both worlds. What follows is an adventure of killer robots, a well-intentioned extremist Hugh Laurie, and some surprisingly deep philosophical thought–and a story that I think has been underrated.

My rating: 4 out of 5.

Warning: spoilers below.

Tomorrowland is an unusual movie, and to be honest, it doesn’t fully live up to its potential. It only has four major characters, and yet it doesn’t quite seem to know who its protagonist is. Casey is, of course, the designated lead character, but if you consider it in terms of the Hollywood Formula, I would argue that the real story from start to finish is the conflict between George Clooney’s and Hugh Laurie’s characters, with Casey being the Relationship Character who helps Frank understand the theme of the story. I think this is one of the reasons that the critics thought the movie was disjointed. The relationships between the characters are uncertain and a little off-kilter.

However, I didn’t mind that so much. It was rough around the edges, but I liked it. I was more disappointed about two specific points in which the movie didn’t live up to its potential.

First, Tomorrowland has a machine that predicts the future, which says Doomsday is coming. But it’s reveal that the machine is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by telepathically making everyone on Earth believe that the future is hopeless. Frank explains this to Casey with the classic question, “If I could tell you the exact date of your death, would you want to know?” Casey’s response of “We make our own destiny.” is what saves the day. This concept–of the mutability of the future and making one’s own destiny, is brilliantly and poignantly revisited in the film’s climax, but it’s a split-second, blink-and-you’ll-miss it plot point, and it would have been much better if the characters had reacted to it.

Second, it’s later reveal that David Nix, the cynical ruler of Tomorrowland, is actually the one causing the destruction on Earth. (Incidentally, I thought his speech about the problems on Earth was oversimplified, but hey, it’s a kids’ movie.) He saw Doomsday coming and sent the telepathic signal to warn the people of Earth in advance, but he gave up on humanity when they didn’t do anything about it. With this, the movie completely misses a brilliant opportunity to bring back Frank’s original idea: “Make people believe that anything is possible.” If prophecies of doom fail, maybe a resurgence of optimism will succeed. While the rest of the film is de facto about this, it would have been so much better if they had actually made this point.

However, there was one thing that put this movie over the top for me, and that was Athena, the snarky, karate-kicking robot girl who has been trying to save Tomorrowland for decades. I always enjoy a robot with a real-life personality, and this was one of the best depictions I’ve seen. The I-don’t-care-what-people-think attitude and the incongruity of causing mayhem while looking like an innocent little girl–and the brilliant casting of Raffey Cassidy–easily made her my favorite character, and the ending really hit me hard.

So overall, Tomorrowland has its flaws, but it’s still a pretty good movie if you like futuristic science fiction, robots, or just optimism in general, and I would recommend it.

About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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