The Anticipated: Tomorrowland

In All, Movies by David

The journey continues with this edition of Catching Up with The Anticipated, Tomorrowland. This film had some pretty serious expectations, and had long been shadowed in mystery before its release. Did Brad Bird deliver again or did this film disappoint? Find out right after I fix up my jetpack.

Spoilers Ahead (Probably) 

Tomorrowland (May 22th, 2015)

How was it?

Sigh… I don’t even know what to do with this movie. The movie critic and the movie lover in me just can’t seem to reconcile how I feel about what I saw, and how good or bad this movie is. Maybe writing will help me pick a side. On the one hand, it is so refreshing to watch a warm sci-fi film, which emphasizes the hopeful side of science and the sense of wonder discovery can engender, as opposed the much more common cold sci-fi, which emphasizes the dangers of scientific exploration and engenders more of a sense of dread over what could be created. This is not to say that cold sci-fi is bad, it’s just all too common at this point. Part of the reason I reviewed Interstellar positively despite its flaws in last year’s The Anticipated is that the film inspired such a sense of wonder and awe, the spirit of bold exploration. Tomorrowland attempts to reach similar ends, the film stressing the importance in never giving up hope that things can get better. Combined with beautiful visuals, Tomorrowland is quite the ambitious film.

I really want one of these pins.

On the other hand, unfortunately, the script is just not that good, and the characters in the movie leave much to be desired. Unlike Pitch Perfect 2, which also had story and script issues, this is at least a movie, and knows what story it wants to tell. But it would have been nice if it could have done a better job telling it, or had done a better job using its two lead actors. Britt Robertson’s Casey has no real character development, and is just kind of around to be a fount of positivity. At the same time, she’s still a female lead in a sci-fi film, which is kind of a big deal, as that has weirdly gone to the wayside in film in recent years. More importantly, she is a female lead who is highly competent and is not in constant need of being saved. But she is also highly forgettable, which is disappointing. Meanwhile, George Clooney’s Frank, while given more to work with, is also underserved by the script. Clooney makes what he is given work rather well, though, as does Hugh Laurie, who is able to turn what could have been a one-note performance as the villainous Nix into something with some depth by the story’s end.

The real star of the movie, however, is Raffey Cassidy’s Athena, who does a remarkable job of playing a robot that, while looking around ten years old, seems far older and wiser. Athena is the heart of this movie, as is her pseudo love story with Frank, whom she has known since he was a young boy. This is by far the strongest and most emotional of all the stories in the movie, and it almost might have been better if this had been the central story of the movie, as opposed to the more ambitious attempt to talk about the importance of hope and exploration in science and the world as a whole. There is so much that could have worked in this movie, but Tomorrowland is just never quite able to put it all together for more than some truly brilliant moments.

The real core of this movie: the love between a boy and a robot girl.

Isn’t this based on…? 

Other than the fact that it is inspired by the Tomorrowland area of Disney World, this is actually one of the few original ideas released this summer.

Did it warrant its selection on The Anticipated?

Despite all its flaws, I still liked this movie, but no, it did not warrant its selection–especially considering it ranked number 2 on the list, a clear sign of my high expectations. Despite being original warm sci-fi, the film can’t overcome the fact that it’s just not as good as it could have been. It’s also a domestic box office disaster (the international box office numbers will help the movie break even, or even make a slight profit, but no one is going to admit that). More importantly, it was probably the final nail in the coffin for the idea that George Clooney is enough to carry any movie (a claim that had been on shaky ground at best since Leatherheads). The question is, will this movie’s financial failure have an impact on Britt Robertson’s career going forward?

Oh, if only you had more to do in this movie.

Robertson has been flirting with stardom since her first star role on Life Unexpected, which allowed her to keep take starring roles that built to this year, when she starred in both this film and The Longest Ride. The Longest Ride did okay in the box office, and is going to be profitable, but it also is a Nicholas Sparks movie, and it is always unclear how much the stars in these movies actually matter–the people who watch Nicholas Sparks movies are probably going to keep watching them regardless. So is Tomorrowland’s poor showing going to hinder Robertson’s chance for bigger and better things going forward? Hollywood is prone to casting off actresses as soon as a shinier and newer one becomes available. You would certainly hope not, as none of the problems in Tomorrowland were her fault, but it does almost look like she is cursed at times, considering the projects she picks all look promising, but never seem to live up to their potential (Secret Circle, we barely knew you). Robertson is very talented, and feels like she could be a star if given the right project. Hopefully she will continue to get shots at leading films like Tomorrowland, and not simply be forced into love interest roles going forward.

Would I recommend it to others?

It’s worth a shot, especially if you are a fan of warm sci-fi. Just have proper expectations so that film can be what it is instead of what it long looked like it could be. At the same time, it is more like a movie you watch because it’s on a movie channel, or you just needed something fun to rent not. Tomorrowland isn’t something that should be considered essential viewing by any means. 

How does this film measure up in a post Mad Max: Fury Road world?

Poorly. The Mad Max high probably affected no movie more considering Tomorrowland came out the week right after Mad Max: Fury Road was released. This made the sting of the film falling short of expectations hurt far more than normal.

How would I rate it?

A world of wonder indeed.

On our handy dandy made-up anticipation meter, Tomorrowland would rate 5 teleporting pins out of 10, because it just wasn’t the film I was hoping for. But it still boasted an ambitious story with strong female protagonists in sci-fi, which is always a pleasant sight to see.

For an actual rating: This is a hard rating to peg. Despite its flaws, the film really nails its tone, and is still fun to watch. The characters are underwritten and the story is shallow, but it’s beautiful, thoughtful, and original. This means it is probably somewhere between a 2.5- and a 3-star move. Still, the film is so bold in its message and what it does well is great enough that I am going lean toward the higher end of that scale and give it 3 out of 4 stars. It seems like the movie lover in me came out on top in the end. This film is flawed, but Tomorrowland is far better than it has been characterized by others since its release. And it has a positive perspective that is just so rare in movies nowadays.

That’s it for this edition of The Anticipated. In the final part of this catch-up edition, we jump inside the head of Pixar’s Inside Out. Pixar has been in a bit of a creative doldrums since Toy Story 3. Is this a return to form for the once untouchable studio, or are films like Brave the best we can hope for in the future? Find out the answer on the next The Anticipated.

Will David Be Watching Crimson Peak?

Considering how bunched together all of these ended up being, there is not much time to change my opinions. I think it is likely that I am going to re-watch some of Del Toro’s films, (and in some cases see them for the firs time) to see if that helps me make a decision.