Tomorrowland: A World Beyond review - 'Disney adventure is big on ideas, short on charm'
It might seem odd that Disney is ushering out a $200m fantasy adventure in the May doldrums rather than, say, early July, but Tomorrowland may just be one of those films no one knew quite what to do with. Co-conceived by Pixar's Brad Bird, and named after a Disney theme park attraction to which it bears little actual relation, Tomorrowland is lumbered with a plot so tortuous it would make Einstein dizzy.
And while its lofty ambitions, big ideas and ecological worthiness should all be praised, its muddle-headed plotting and lack of artistic focus are problematic.
In an awkward and unnecessary book-ending plot device, a grumpy and irascible George Clooney addresses the camera and argues with an unseen female voice about how best to tell their story. He is Frank Walker, a disillusioned inventor who then recalls his boyhood trip to the 1964 World's Fair in New York.
At that distant but iconic gathering, many a seminal invention was unveiled, including the precursors of laptops and modems, but young Frank turns up carrying a jet-pack made out of twin Hoover engines.
Though Frank thinks this is pure genius, scientist and mogul David Nix (Hugh Laurie) begs to differ and sends him packing. But Anthea (Raffey Cassidy), a little girl in Nix's entourage, is impressed with Frank, and presents him with a small metal badge with a large 'T' on it. This is a key to Tomorrowland, a space-age future city that offers new possibilities in happiness and harmony.
Meanwhile, in the present day, feisty Florida teenager Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is attempting to sabotage the demolition of NASA's Cape Canaveral launch station when she's approached by Athena (mysteriously unchanged), who hands her another Tomorrowland badge. When Casey touches it, she too is transported to the utopian future city, but when she tries to engage with its pristine populace, she realises it's a kind of recording, or hologram. Back in the present, she sets out to track down the grown-up Frank and find out what the hell is going on.
Feeling dizzy? And that's only the pared-down version of Tomorrowland's plot, which ultimately collapses under the weight of its own grandiosity.
But one thing this film could not be accused of is cynicism, because it wears its heart on its sleeve and takes on some pretty big issues. The spectre of global warming looms large, and the reason for building the futuristic city may be to escape an impending calamity.
But pessimism and atrophy are presented as even bigger dangers to mankind and, as in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, the cancelling of the NASA space programme is pinpointed as the moment where man's precious ingenuity began to desert him. All of which is no doubt very laudable, but these grand ideas are sometimes shoved clumsily into a script heaving with big statements that coalesce in a ghastly grandstanding speech given by Hugh Laurie's character at the end.
Which is a pity, because if Brad Bird and Lost creator Damon Lindelof's worthy screenplay could have been whittled into a more manageable shape, a rather special film might have been possible.
As it stands, Tomorrowland is not without its decent moments, particularly its marvellous recreation of the World's Fair, seen from the point of view of a wondrous and optimistic boy. That opening feels like a loving tribute to the early films of Steven Spielberg, and promises a dizzy, fun-filled fantasy.
But that other film never really emerges, and Tomorrowland ultimately struggles to find a prevailing mood, or tone.
George Clooney is even grumpier than he needs to be in the lead role, and Hugh Laurie is tragically miscast and seems to sense it. But Britt Robertson is very good indeed as the irrepressible Casey, and could go on to bigger, or rather better, things.
And this week's other new releases reviewed: