Review: Tomorrowland

I keep thinking about the henchmen in Tomorrowland. They walk around with a persistent smile on their face, demanding that you follow along with their orders, lest they vaporise you in seconds. Their ultra-pleasant demeanour contrasts directly with complete and total lack of understanding or empathy, and with grins akimbo they ruthlessly pursue Casey and Frank across the globe. They are genuinely terrifying, and their seemingly genuine inclusion in a movie like Tomorrowland means I'm either giving it far too much credit, or nowhere near enough.

Because Tomorrowland is robotic, Tomorrowland is soulless, and above all else, Tomorrowland is smiling. How much it wants you to smile with it. How little it understands why you won't. It's a blockbuster adaptation of a Newsroom speech, a two hour long diatribe on how it was oh so better before, and gosh darn it we just need dreamers again.

The movie's dreamer comes in the form of Casey Newton, a character defined entirely by her relentless optimism, which manifests through repeated sabotage of government property, and asking her teachers why they're so focused on problems when they could be solving all the world's ills. One day, she finds she's come into possession of a mysterious pin that transports her to a fantastic alternate reality, and she's forced into the middle of an adventure to save the world. 

But what is she saving the world from? Tomorrowland witholds the answer for approximately eighty percent of its running time, attempting to build the mystery. But the mystery never takes hold, for the film is so persistently didactic that there's no suspense over what it's building towards. Early on, Casey makes a speech about wolves of hope and despair fighting inside all of us, saying that the one that wins is the one we feed. We meet George Clooney's character watching countless news feeds, showing ice caps melting, strife in the middle east, financial disaster, convinced the world is ending. The pin transports Casey to Tomorrowland, but it doesn't transport her world weary and cynical father. When the true bad guy is revealed to be negative thinking, there's really not much to do but either nod or roll your eyes.

I'm not someone adverse to inspirational messages of hope, far from it. I love Star Trek and always will, and Yakuza 3 is one of my favourite games. But Tomorrowland lacks all self awareness, and its optimistic message belies an entrenched cynical view of humanity, and an incredibly selfish view of optimism. It conflates optimism with naiveté, and declares that all those who dared to let the world beat them down just didn't try hard enough to be happy. Can't they just ignore the bad news, it wonders, not considering the fact that the bad news is actually happening to someone.

Tomorrowland is a movie awash in privilege, completely unaware of the legitimate suffering of the people it deems to be below it, yelling at them to just cheer up. It heads to sci-fi not for a world of metaphor to explore a moral issue, but to find a way codify its own worldview which needs fantasy to be justified. It wraps environmental decay and political dictatorships into a nebulous un-nuanced glob of "bad things," and with complete and total disregard for the directly affected declares that the worst thing about the bad things is how America is forced to watch them on TV.

Don't mistake my harsh words for total dismissal, because if there's anyone who can enjoy an Aaron Sorkin speech in spite of thematic repugnance then it's me, and Tomorrowland is no different. It swells in all the right places, the action set-pieces bound with an inventiveness and enthusiasm lacking in much of its blockbuster competition, and George Clooney knocks it out of the park. There's about fourty five minutes in the middle where it eases up on its themes is content to just be a fun road movie. And all those things are great!

Which is honestly the problem at the heart of Tomorrowland. It isn't a bad movie at all, it's a a good one. It tells a story, it has something to say, and it says it well. You wouldn't know it from this piece, but in the cinema, I mostly enjoyed myself. But when the excitement of the moment passes, all Tomorrowland leaves behind is a bad taste in my mouth that I'm unable to wash out.