Last year, some of the most intriguing trailers I’ve ever seen were released to advertise the coming of Brad Bird’s newest movie, TOMORROWLAND. Considering how the guy’s resume is more than impressive (a body of works that includes classics like THE IRON GIANT and crowd favorites such as MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL), it’s more than a disappointment to say that his latest offering TOMORROWLAND is actually not only his worst but possibly one of the most hollow movies of the year.
But before I get to the in-depth opinions on why this movie didn’t succeed in its goals and why I think it just didn’t work, I might as well mention the parts that did their job well. Give credit where it’s due and there’s some to be handed out even in a letdown such as this. First of all the setting is great. One thing I liked about the movie was that the first half of it was more about the journey towards the titular utopia rather than showing the place itself. Sure there were hints and glimpses of it all throughout the opening acts but they were just teasers to something bigger (even if the final reveal wasn’t worth it, the build-up was nice). Even more important and more relatable than the city are the people involved. Here, the acting is great since it’s obvious that the entire cast was truly invested in their characters and the overall story even if the sum of all parts wasn’t that good. Hell, it was their acting that pretty much salvaged this movie from being total crap. Even if the message is lost in the clumsy execution of things, TOMORROWLAND still manages to make you give a fuck about what happens to the characters. The clash of cynicism from the older actors pit against the optimism of the younger cast members is nice to watch onscreen even if the arguments go from being touching to outright childish. It’s a real waste that these actors are reading lines from a script that could’ve been turned into a real spectacle to behold if it were given to a more mature writer and not someone who was too eager to preach to people about certain world views and mindsets. Instead of becoming a philosophical beacon of hope, TOMORROWLAND comes off as someone with the depth of a televangelist or a life coach instead of someone who actually knows what the fuck they’re talking about; i.e. someone who’s optimistic just for the sake of it.
What TOMORROWLAND wants to teach its audiences is something admirable because, for once in this day and age of dystopias and wastelands, a Sci-Fi movie dares to dream big instead of being a doomsayer like pretty much every other Sci-Fi movie out there. Rather than show visions of the Armageddon and preach about how fucked humanity is for being stupid, TOMORROWLAND instead puts its energies into showing a future where the best of the species band up together to create a utopia that hasn’t been seen since 50’s Sci-Fi, proving that we as a race can do anything as long as we stop bickering about stupid shit. And then the movie botches up this well-meaning and seemingly innocent message by throwing in elitism, excessive empty optimism and scolding humans for not shitting fairy dust or thinking happy thoughts 24/7 as they live in a harsh world.
Obviously taking hints and inspiration from Ayn Rand’s ATLAS SHRUGGED where the world’s geniuses decide to abandon the current crop of humanity to go make their own perfect vision of what the future should be, TOMORROWLAND falls into the same pitfalls as that literary milestone without one bit of irony or deeper analysis (whether or not you agree with Rand’s book, it IS an irreplaceable landmark in literature). TOMORROWLAND is a vision of the future that’s exclusive only to those considered to be “the best” by an echelon of people who have considered themselves to be mankind’s saviors early on; people who are willing to abandon a greater fraction of humanity to fuck itself to death or just leave them be while the denizens of Tomorrowland hoard all the world saving tech until the world proves itself to them that we lowly humans are indeed worthy of jetpacks. It is a vision of a future where no one is allowed be a naysayer and those who disagree with the happy thoughts of the place are exiled back into the shitty place called Earth. It is a utopia controlled by the equivalent of dictators straight out of a CARE BEARS episode where unhappy thoughts and cynics are dealt with harshly. Here, cynics and critics of the world as a whole are depicted not as people who want to get a point across but instead they are shown to be defeatists who want humanity to go extinct while those who have big dreams are humanity’s only hope. TOMORROWLAND is also a vision of the future that is literally limited to nice buildings designed by Apple, robots and jetpacks. For a futuristic city that showcases humanity’s greatest achievements, it’s shown that the shared genius of fuck knows how many inventors and intellectuals could only come up such generic shit. The whole old-school 50-‘s-60’s Sci-Fi aesthetic is impressive and a joy to see onscreen but it’s nothing but fancy gift-paper wrapped around a plain old cardboard box with nothing in it.
I won’t take issue with whatever political allegiances the scriptwriters may have because that’s part of another review and analysis; what I’ll take issue though is with how poorly the movie handled its message and ended becoming a well-financed soapbox orator. In the movie, the morality behind such dark issues like war, pain and general human-made misery is blamed on Bad Thoughts. Seriously, that’s it. Bad Thoughts and Negative Vibes are the only reason for all the bad shit in the world and the only way to fix it is, guess what, by thinking Happy Thoughts. For the final conflict, it’s revealed that the main antagonist is driven by unfounded elitism and biased cynicism while the lead character is fueled by an endless amount of joy and hope for the future and it’s her duty to fix everything by thinking Happy Thoughts. I won’t deny the fact that the arguments made from both sides do have a point (some criticism is justified while some optimism is really needed, etc.) but TOMORROWLAND chooses to over-simplify everything into a battle between Saturday Morning Cartoon level “Good Vs. Evil” that would make the latest run of MY LITTLE PONY blush, turning the entire argument for making the world a better place into something childish and amateurish. According to TOMORROWLAND, everything in the world can be the way it should be if some smart people just bum in some secluded area, make awesome shit and fire a massive Happy Beam at the world. Politics, ethics and the painful realities of this complicated world can go fuck themselves when the Happy Beam hits because that’s all you really need. The main problem with TOMORROWLAND is that it generalizes a complicated issue in such a fucked up clumsy manner that the metaphorical debate comes out as a pretentious one-sided lecture straight out of the Red Scare 50’s instead of a heartfelt plea for some hope in today’s fiction.
Out of touch with reality and way too high up there in the clouds, TOMORROWLAND may have looked impressive if those sweet trailers were anything to go by but just like the titular city in the movie, getting too close will reveal how empty things really are. While it’s not the worst movie ever made nor is it the most pretentious thing in existence (have you guys ever heard of a movie called GOD IS NOT DEAD?), TOMORROWLAND is nothing more than a below average and forgettable preachy failure that was saved by its cast, charm and visuals. I don’t think this movie is enough to demolish Brad Bird’s career but this is surely a misfire many would rather ignore in the man’s list of hits.