Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001, dark has been fashionable at the movie box office. Climate change, wars and other calamities since then have reinforced that.
With Tomorrowland, director Brad Bird pleas for a optimism. His second live-action film is a Valentine’s to dreamers in the form of a science fiction/fantasy story.
Bird’s 130-minute movie, which he co-wrote with Damon Lindelof, isn’t a Pollyanna endeavor. It more than acknowledges the challenges facing the world. Still, it has a simple message: We can’t just give up.
Tomorrowland is a place created by dreamers including Tesla, Verne and Eiffel (with Edison taking credit). In the course of the film, we meet former boy inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney), a disillusioned former dreamer, and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a young woman who still is one.
At the start of the movie, Walker is trying to describe events while the more optimistic Casey keeps interrupting his narrative. Bird & Co. doesn’t tip his hand. It takes a while for the story to unfold and the audience needs to pay attention.
Eventually, a confused Casey finds her way to Tomorrowland. Along the way, she encounters friendly robot Athena (Raffey Cassidy) and a number of hostile ones. She’s led to Walker who, we learn, found Tomorrowland at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York but who later was exiled.
Early in the proceedings, we see a display with a countdown. As things stand, something bad is going to happen, but it takes some time to find out what. Walker and Casey, fighting off hostile robots, manage to get to Tomorrowland.
This is a story that couldn’t be told — at least in live-action form — without computer effects. Late in the middle portion of Tomorrowland, things threaten to get away from Bird — similar to how Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar movie got away from him. However, the director pulls things together in the film’s final act.
When all is said and done, the director delivers an emotional and human ending. Here, GCI is a tool. An elaborate tool, to be sure, but one that serves the purpose of the story and not an end to itself.
Summer films are supposed to be “popcorn movies,” and that applies to Tomorrowland. Yet its strong final act provides an additional dimension. Having a human story and computer effects aren’t mutally exclusive. GRADE: A, mostly because of the powerful final act.