Disney’s far-out, meta-adventure “Tomorrowland” finally opens May 22 stateside. Early reviews run the gamut from high praise to deflated disappointment, but that shouldn’t stop this sci-fi spectacle starring George Clooney and Britt Robertson and directed by Brad Bird from becoming one of the Big Summer Movies. If nothing else, Robertson and Clooney are said to have strong chemistry as a curious teen science geek and a former boy-genius inventor, respectively, in this heretofore hush-hush picture that packs a lot of dazzling production design.
Here’s what critics are saying so far. Check out the trailer below.
Above all else, Bird has crafted a gorgeous world rife with creativity and inventive images. A Spielbergian sense of candid awe and wonder permeates each scene with a nostalgic edge. (Michael Giacchino channels John Williams for his rousing score, though he goes more for mood than themes.) A master craftsman, the ever-playful Bird approaches his influences with childlike relish, but doesn’t dwell on any of his clever nods or insert them cumbersomely just to satiate discerning trivia fans; he integrates sights and sounds from Spielberg, classic Disney movies, Uncle Walt’s unfulfilled utopian vision, the Disney theme parks, old sci-fi flicks, Jules Verne, Cold War paranoia, and modern anxieties with the skill of an A-list director and the innocent glee of a child at a Saturday matinee.
A kid-skewing adventure saga that, for all its initial narrative intrigue and visual splendor, winds up feeling like a hollow, hucksterish Trojan horse of a movie — the shiny product of some smiling yet sinister dimension where save-the-world impulses and Disney mass-branding strategies collide. A sort of “Interstellar Jr.” in which the fate of humanity hinges on our ability to nurture young hearts and minds, the picture runs heavier on canned inspirationalism than on actual inspiration, which won’t necessarily keep it from drawing a hefty summer audience with its family-friendly elements, topnotch production values, Imax rollout, endless tie-in potential and a top-billed George Clooney.
How many sci-fi/fantasy films of recent years have climaxed with anything other than massive conflict and conflagration? Whatever the number, “Tomorrowland” is one of the few to place far more emphasis on talk than action, which is what will probably contribute to what, for some, will make for a softer experience than the genre norm. The film’s general coolness and vision of a potentially serene future reminds more of Spike Jonze’s “Her” than of anything in the Marvel, George Lucas or James Cameron-derived worlds, not to mention other far more violent ones. As thoughtful and sympathetic as the intentions are here, perhaps it all goes back to the point often made about Dante; what do people read and remember, “Paradiso,” “Purgatorio” or “Inferno”?
It’s a brave family movie that invests in high-budget thrills without the safety-net of a franchise brand, mows down a small child with a pickup truck (it’s OK, she’s a robot), and subjects us to the sight of Hugh Laurie in black leather jodhpurs. But bolder still is Tomorrowland’s sincere attempt to jump-start humanity’s technological optimism, which it reckons stalled with the decline of the space race with potentially planet-threatening consequences. Whether or not that’s the answer to the planet’s current problems, director Brad Bird deserves praise for packing such big ideas into such an accessible, rip-roaring, retro-futurist adventure.
It’s all goofy, exhilarating fun until the film is weighed down by its own delaying tactics: What is Tomorrowland, and why is it no longer thriving? Who created those robots, and why are they after Frank and Casey? Clooney supplies non-stop exposition throughout, and yet never enough by design, of course. For all of Tomorrowland’s infrastructural marvels – tiered swimming pools, astro-commutes, and beautiful tangles of airborne boulevards — the world-building is thin and unsatisfying.
“Tomorrowland” is singularly unafraid of weighty concepts, tackling climate change, our ongoing fascination with the apocalypse and the very Disney-ish idea of being ‘special’. It does get dry (some scenes feel suspiciously like TED talks) and the script’s fleeting efforts to unpick its dubious Ayn Rand-ish central ideology are completely undermined by a clunky, flat-as-a-pancake finale.