Tomorrowland (2015)

Ever wonder what the future will look like and who will make it possible? Between jetpacks, hover cars, and teleportation, imagining the future is something we’ve been preoccupied with for generations. In Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, viewers are given a glimpse of what the future could be, if only humanity could let go of its negativity.

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The story begins in 1964 with the introduction of boy genius Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson), an inventor at heart. He boldly brings his invention, a jet pack that doesn’t quite work, to the New York’s World Fair where he presents it to David Nix (Hugh Laurie), a judge at the Inventions pavilion who isn’t terribly impressed with the unfinished project. Although he doesn’t win Nix’s approval, he does manage to catch the eye of a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who offers him a pin which gives him access to a special ride. Once inside, Frank is eventually taken to an alternate futuristic reality known as Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland (2015)

Frank’s story abruptly comes to an end for now, so that the movie can move to the present day and introduce Casey (Britt Robertson), a teen who dreams of a better world. In fact, she’s currently sneaking out at night to sabotage construction equipment, and delay NASA’s attempts to tear down its Space Shuttle launch platform at Cape Canaveral.

After several successful attempts at postponing the destruction, she’s arrested. When she makes bail, she finds another one of those pins among her personal belongings which, when touched, transports her to a cornfield just outside Tomorrowland. Casey makes it to the city and absorbs what life is like in this futuristic location until the pin runs out of battery life and she returns to Earth. Entranced by what she’s seen, she decides to search for another pin.

Tomorrowland (2015)

After browsing online, she finds a shop which is offering another one of the pins. However, when she arrives, she’s met by a very confusing couple (Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key) who demand to know where Casey got the original pin. When she tells them she doesn’t know who gave it to her, the two get hostile. Luckily, Athena shows up (looking exactly the same age as she did in 1964) to rescue Casey from the couple, who turn out to be killer robots.

Casey quickly figures out that Athena is a robot as well. Athena explains she was designed to recruit people to come to Tomorrowland, and she gave Casey the pin because she thinks Casey may have it what it takes to save that other world, because there are hints that the people of Tomorrowland have created something very bad. She tells Casey she’s taking her to someone who will be able to get them back over there, and that person ends up being a middle-aged and bitter Frank Walker (George Clooney), who’s been banished from Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland (2015)

Despite his disdain for Tomorrowland, he’s managed to tap into their satellite signals, which show images that reveal that Earth’s destruction is imminent. While Frank tries to explain all this to Casey, his house is attacked by robots sent from Tomorrowland.

Using all of Frank’s high-tech gizmos, they manage to defeat the robots and escape. Along with Athena, they run to one of Frank’s hideouts, where Frank uses one of his inventions to quickly transport them all to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. There, he reveals that a cabal of geniuses (including Tesla and Edison) stashed a rocket below the tower when it was originally built. They climb aboard as all of Paris watches the rocket launch, and the three are soon taken into space and carried into the dimension where Tomorrowland exists.

Tomorrowland (2015)

Upon arrival, they find the place in a state of disrepair, and the remaining residents of Tomorrowland aren’t enthused to see the trio, even when they explain that Casey has the ability to help save Earth, thanks to her intelligence and hopeful outlook. Dr. Nix, now the governor of Tomorrowland (and he’s also ageless, but in his case it’s because he drinks some sort of special “shake” every day), has the group arrested and orders them deported back to Earth.

Tomorrowland (2015)

As they’re on their way to be sent home, Casey is brought inside the Monitor, a large machine that uses tachyons to display holographic images of the past and future, and it’s this machine that predicts the destruction of the Earth in just 58 days. However, Nix doesn’t care if Earth is destroyed, because he and his people will be safe here.

Eventually, Casey realizes that the Monitor is actually causing the demise of Earth by broadcasting negative thoughts into everyone’s minds. So, the three come up with a plan to blow up the machine that’s sending all that negativity to Earth, and Frank just happens to have brought along a small spherical bomb for just such an eventuality.

Tomorrowland (2015)

Dr. Nix opens up a portal to a uninhabited island, planning to force our heroes to live out their final days on a luxurious beach. They break free and Frank gets the bomb to Casey, who tries to throw it up into the Monitor, but instead it goes off just outside the portal.

Nix ends up pinned underneath debris, but refuses to go out without a fight and shoots at Frank. Athena takes the laser blast instead, and is about to shut down. It seems all Tomorrowland robots have a built-in self-destruct mechanism, so Athena says they can use her body to blow up the Monitor. Frank dons a jetpack to carry her up to the Monitor, which is destroyed in the ensuing explosion, and Earth is saved from destruction.

Casey and Frank restore Tomorrowland, where they build a group of recruitment robots just like Athena, and give them pins so they can seek out more dreamers to help make the world a better place. The final shot is of the new recruits finding themselves in a cornfield and seeing Tomorrowland for the first time.

Tomorrowland (2015)

Tomorrowland sends a bold message to the dreamers of the world. Okay, well, maybe it’s not that bold. The movie is basically saying everybody gave up on optimism about the future when the space race ended, which isn’t entirely true. There are lots of people still trying to make the world a better place, and I’m sure there are still plenty of exciting things we’ll see in our lifetimes, even if they’re not necessarily based around space exploration.

But the real problem with this film is that its storyline is all over the place, and nothing adds up. Why did Tomorrowland never live up to its promise? What happened to all the people who were living there at the start of the film? Why was Frank kicked out? And what’s with all those evil robots trying to kill the heroes? I have to assume Dr. Nix is the one who sent them, but why? If the Earth is ending in 60 days, why would he waste his time worrying about anybody over there?

Tomorrowland (2015)

Also, having two types of Tomorrowland pins that look the same but do two different things (one gives you access to the real Tomorrowland, the other just beams a realistic simulation into your brain as an advertisement) was confusing.

And the way humanity is saved really makes no sense. According to the images seen inside the Monitor, the end of the world involves floods and volcanoes and other natural and climate change-related disasters. So destroying a machine that’s beaming negative thoughts into our heads will somehow cause global warming to stop? This resolution came way out of left field, which made the whole movie feel like a waste of time.

Tomorrowland (2015)

Given Brad Bird’s track record with beloved Pixar films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille, I think we can probably put most of the blame on screenwriter Damon Lindlelof, who’s shown in his scripts for things like Lost and Prometheus and Star Trek Into Darkness that he’s great at planting the seeds of a mystery, but usually blows it when it comes time for the big dramatic payoff.

All in all, Tomorrowland is a long, drawn out Disney movie that doesn’t really appeal to kids or adults. Frankly, the only thing this film has going for it is the special effects and a quick shout out to Nikola Tesla. This is the latest in a series of Disney movies inspired by attractions at their theme parks, which have been pretty hit or miss. Actually, other than the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, they’ve all been misses (anybody remember The Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy? Anybody?), and this one certainly doesn’t break the streak.

[—This review contains additional material by Dr. Winston O’Boogie.]

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  • MichaelANovelli

    The moral of the story is “The 2010’s would be so much better if they were more like the 1960’s!”

  • Gallen Dugall

    Tomorrowland should have been “Science Fantasy” once the domain of Trek and Gernsbeck where all problems are solvable through technology in the hands of the morally & ethically pure of heart. It’s the most optimistic of science fiction genres, almost always coming with a moral, and it has been dead since season 5 of TNG; a casualty of the ’90s great Dark & Gritty uprising.
    The problem is that modern writers can’t do any science fiction outside of hand wavey space fantasy, because either they lack the talent or the wisdom of marketing gurus stop them. The result is that everything this film should have been it would never be allowed to be.
    World building that would have made this setting make sense? Forbidden!
    Real science to aid in suspension of disbelief? Forbidden!
    A moral to the story? Forbidden!
    We’re left with a square peg hammered into a round hole.

  • Hal_10000

    “So destroying a machine that’s beaming negative thoughts into our heads will somehow cause global warming to stop?”

    No, not really. The point being made was that of the self-fulfilling prophecy. When humans thought the future meant rocket ships, they made it happen. But when they began to believe the world was doomed, they began to act in way that eventually brought it about. No one was working on solutions to these problems or believed that the problems could be solved. By eliminating that prophecy, it freed people to act more optimistically, to act as though the world does have a future and to bring that future about.

    (A similar story, done better, is Bradbury’s Toynbee Convector, in which — spoiler warning — a man fakes a time travel experiment and shows the world a bright future, inspiring them to bring that bright future about.)

    Not saying that it’s necessarily a good plot, mind you. But I think that’s the point it’s making.

    • Greenhornet

      “No one was working on solutions to these problems or believed that the problems could be solved.”

      That doesn’t work. It was a FAKE prophecy, propaganda. Working to “correct the problem” would have been wasted effort since it was a false future. It could be likened to the “global warming” doom and gloom predictions: several “experts” have given a time limit until “the end” and most of them have come and gone. Yet, the belief didn’t make it happen, the same (Or other) “experts” simply adjusted their predictions to a later date.

      Odd that the girl who “saves” Tomorrowland is someone who sabotages equipment and sets off a bomb. Not a BUILDER, but a DESTROYER.

      You know what brought about the end of Tomorrowland? The fact that they no longer had the people who BUILT “the future”. All they had, all they wanted were the dreamers and tinkerers, not the engineers, the craftsmen, the planers, the people who would DO THINGS with the inventions, make them work and apply them to real world conditions. Walt Disney knew better and would have torn up the script saying: “Do it again, but do it right this time!”

      • Hal_10000

        No, it’s not a fake prophecy. It’s specifically stated that it is using tachyons to see into the future (and, in fact, we see that it’s shot-term projections are entirely accurate). Casey figures out that it’s a problem of backfeed: the prediction makes itself come true. If disaster is possible, then knowing it’s possible makes it more likely, which makes it more likely until it becomes a near certainty.

        • Greenhornet

          Now I’m confused. The only answer I can think of is “mind control” or “the power of negative thinking”.
          I fell madness lurking in the shadows. My only hope is that not seeing this movie will save some small piece of sanity.

  • damanoid

    I’m not entirely convinced that Brad Bird wasn’t a big part of the problem with this movie. As with “The Incredibles,” the message of “Tomorrowland” is that some people are just uniquely gifted, and if the rest of us would simply honor these visionaries and get out of their way, all our problems would be solved. This is fundamentally a dark, exclusionary message– basically the antithesis of the positive, inclusive notion of progress that DIsney’s original Tomorrowland tried to sell. Yes, that was also a sales pitch, but it was based on the idea that we’re all moving toward the future together, and that we can all contribute as a society to solve our problems. Disney’s Tomorrowland showed us the future as a shared adventure, whereas “Tomorrowland” the movie gives us a future based on conspiracy and privilege where the vast majority of humanity are hapless victims.

    By rights, the true villains of “Tomorrowland” ought to be the cabal of inventors that, the movie tells us, hoarded and concealed scientific knowledge for over a century, eventually resulting in near-global disaster. Yet the movie tries to hold them up as heroes. This is the flip side of Syndrome from “The Incredibles,” whose plan to make superheroes obsolete by making their abilities available to all humanity was somehow presented as a bad thing. Even at the end of “Tomorrowland,” the challenge of making the world a better place is not offered to all of us, but only to a hand-picked few “chosen ones.” Brad Bird seemingly can’t recognize the villains in his own stories.

    • Bear of Poop

      So, no people are uniquely gifted? You could have written Mozart’s music if you just really put your mind to it? Or come up with the Theory of Relativity if you weren’t, you know, busy with other stuff? Mind you I haven’t seen the movie or read the review yet so maybe I’m jumping in out of context but that seems a pretty wild thing to say… Even in the Roddenberry Hippy Utopia of the future where they’ve managed to abolish money, greed and war and people just do awesome things for the sheer awesomeness of it some people are more awesome than others.

      (I’ll come back and eat crow if I’ve totally missed the point here 😉 )

      • Gallen Dugall

        By that logic a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters are uniquely gifted.
        Continuing that analogy it’s not the writing that’s what’s special – it’s the insight. Anyone can stumble into something and fail upwards. As much as I love George Lucas; honestly that’s what happened with Star Wars. What separates true creativity from rote creativity is the willingness to do painful analysis of one’s own experiences and draw new insights from that. It is a painful process to break down where we are and rebuild it. Kepler is probably a better example than Einstein esp since Einstein took total credit for relativity with a BS inspiration story when it was only part his work & part was his wife’s work who he then divorced to discredit.

      • Greenhornet

        Eli Whitney once related a story how he demonstrated his model of the “cotton gin” to some people at a party before he patented it, but it kept jamming. While cleaning the lint out, the lady of the house announced that she knew what was wrong, jammed a hairbrush into the machine so that it scraped the lint from the “teeth” AND IT WORKED!
        More “ordinary” people have made scientific contributions than you imagine.

    • Toby Clark

      ‘This is the flip side of Syndrome from “The Incredibles,” whose plan to make superheroes obsolete by making their abilities available to all humanity was somehow presented as a bad thing”
      It was more the fact that he was prepared to murder every other superhero as part of a plan to create a threat he could publicly defeat and make people think he was a hero.

      • damanoid

        Well, his catchphrase is pretty explicit about his motivation: “When everybody is special, nobody will be.” Granted, this doesn’t make much sense in the context of his larger plan, which I think is a symptom of the need to present him as a villain, even though I think realistically most people would be more concerned about the existence of a secretive elite quasi-governmental army of superhumans.

        It’s telling that neither Syndrome nor anyone else in the movie ever acknowledges that his crimes are entirely unnecessary. All he needed to do was publicize and distribute his technology openly, and he would have been hailed as a hero. He would, in fact, have BEEN a hero, honored as a genius like Edison or Jobs. Or, possibly, not– maybe he’s right, and displacing the superheroes is the only way for him to earn public esteem. Maybe in the universe of “The Incredibles,” people who share power with society are not viewed as worthy of honor.

        • Jonathan Campbell

          His plan is specifically to be a superhero- he’s just too much of a childish sociopath to realise that this is about more than fame, glory, costumes and cool fights. Selling his inventions and making everyone super isn’t his ultimate goal but the final stage of his secondary goal- revenge on Mr Incredible (and superheroes in general) by making him obsolete. After he’s had his fun, of course.

          He’s already got wealth, money, power, and he likely is lauded as a genius by those who buy his inventions. It doesn’t matter- fame in itself is not what he wants; it’s the very specific desire to be a superhero (or what he imagines a superhero is) that drives him obsessively. His plan makes perfect sense according to that logic- if you are a successful and respected musician, you might not be satisfied with the fame, money and prestige that comes with that if all your life what you REALLY wanted was to be a famous actor. So, too, Syndrome isn’t going to be happy being rich, powerful and respected when what he REALLY wants to do is get in tights and fly. And settle petty, childish, irrational grudges against the idol he was stalking.

          And he is called out on the madness of his plan- Mr Incredible says he killed off real heroes so he could just “pretend” to be one, but Syndrome thinks he’s just as real as Incredible (because of course, he doesn’t think being a superhero is necessarily about saving people just for the sake of saving people. But if you understand Buddys’ twisted, petulant, self-centred logic, his plan makes perfect sense.

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