Starring: Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Tim McGraw, Pierce Gagnon
Rated PG for Sequences of Sci-Fi Action and Peril, Thematic Elements, and Language
There's something distinctly Spielberg in Brad Bird's new film "Tomorrowland." Its themes of hope and imagination (not to mention having a precocious pre-teen as the lead) seem to come directly from him. That's refreshing in this day and age, when every big budget movie is filled with tween angst and superhero in-jokes and references. Or reboots and sequels, like another movie that I saw yesterday.
While the film gets its name from the Disney park ride, that's the only thing about it that's based on something with a "brand" name. Everything else comes from the imaginations of Damon Lindelof, Jeff Jensen and especially Brad Bird. It feels so refreshing to not know half of what to expect when I sat down to watch this movie; to not have the sense that the film has been branded, marketed and positioned to the point where I felt like I had already seen the movie before it even started. With something like "The Avengers: Age of Ultron," I already knew every character in the film before the film even started, and what they were going to do in the film. What's the point of going to the movies if you already know what to expect?
But I am getting off on a rant here, which is surprising, since "Tomorrowland" is solid entertainment. It's a little sluggish at times, but Bird is a terrific storyteller, and that's his focus in the film. There are some impressive special effects here, but he uses them wisely. His focus is, rightly, on the story.
Casey Newton (Robertson) has a habit of breaking into a NASA Launchpad. She has her reasons, though. It's being decommissioned because no one knows what to do with it, and that's going to leave her father out of a job. She's trying to delay it, but it's a lost cause. After getting arrested for her deeds, she finds a mysterious pin with her belongings. When she touches it, she's transported to a fantastic new world. Her inquisitive nature piqued, she begins to research it and what it is. But there are those who are after it for nefarious reasons.
"Tomorrowland" is one of those movies that takes until the very end until you know exactly what's going on. Bird keeps his cards close to the chest, and he reveals them slowly and deliberately. Too slowly, in fact, since there are times when the film seems to drag. Nevertheless, it's not predictable and it's definitely entertaining. The ending is also a cliché, but it's dressed up well enough that it doesn't matter. Plus the fun is getting there.
The acting is surprisingly good. I wasn't impressed with Britt Robertson in the trailer, but she does good work. She's smart, tough and spunky. There's no Bella Swan here. She's also assertive, to the point where it aggravates those around her (that's a positive thing). Easily equaling her is Raffey Cassidy, who plays Casey's guide, Athena. She's excellent, and bears a striking similarity to Saoirse Roman to the point where I thought it was her. The weak link is George Clooney, surprisingly. Either he's miscast or simply not trying, Clooney never becomes the character. Both actresses pick up the slack, but Clooney's performance deals the film a real blow.
"Tomorrowland" is a good movie. It's not anything special, but it's message about the importance of taking the chance of dreaming big, is so important. Especially to nervous studio executives obsessed with "branding" films that need no such support.