It’s often said that the writers on Lost were just making it up as they went along; weaving the most impossible scenarios into the yarns of the story, hoping an explanation or ending might surface after-the-fact.
If that is, in fact, how Lost was written, it’s easy to argue that Damon Lindelof‘s latest writing venture takes the opposite approach. With a script credited to Lindelof, Jeff Jensen, and director Brad Bird, Tomorrowland feels like a concept or idea (or a philosophy, even) that was fleshed out into 15 minutes of story in the writers’ room. That 15 minutes of story was nestled into the movie’s ending, and 90 minutes of “robots-are-chasing-you-run!” were tacked on ahead of it. A movie that knew where it wanted to go, but had no idea how to get there.
Given the movie’s title and inspiration, it’s awfully hard not to compare it to one of Disney’s rides – waiting more than an hour for an experience that lasts minutes.
The premise of Tomorrowland centers around Casey (Britt Robertson), a rebellious, intelligent teenager who has a knack for understanding how things work. When Casey is gifted a mysterious pin by a child named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), she realizes she has a key to another world where ambitious minds can meet. She enlists the help of a grumpy man named Frank (George Clooney) to help her escape a gang of robots that have started chasing her for the pin (…it’s genuinely as abrupt as it sounds), and they work together to get back to Tomorrowland.
It’s also worth mentioning that several people (primarily bystanders) die on-screen in Tomorrowland, but the violence is glossed over so quickly that it’s simultaneously jarring and forgettable. I’m not opposed to violence showing up in movies, but I prefer if it has a purpose in the story. Here it’s to show that bad robots are bad. Got it? Bad robots. Bad.
It’s not all bad stuff, mind you – the movie’s peak features a Home Alone style house that’s been booby-trapped by Clooney’s character – but after several successful directorial efforts from Bird, including The Incredibles, it’s hard not to consider this one a misfire.
The break-out success of this film, if anything is to be remembered from it, will likely be Robertson’s performance. For a hollow character in a hollow film, Robertson manages to lend enough personal ticks and mannerisms to Casey to make her likable. It may not be a particularly challenging part, but Robertson’s Jennifer-Lawrence-like persona shines through.
Lindelof has already taken to the press to say that this is a movie fanboys will be too cynical to like. While it’s true that Tomorrowland offers a more optimistic look at our future, rather than pining over a world of zombies and destruction, I don’t think it’s the premise that will kill the film’s good will. In fact, I think that’s one of the few and only reasons I’ve seen cited for people enjoying it.
Instead, Tomorrowland spends the majority of it’s running time on bad action (pro-tip: don’t see this movie right after Mad Max: Fury Road) and then decides to clumsily tell, rather than show, its message in a few final moments. Regardless of Lindelof’s claim that this movie isn’t for cynics, the problem isn’t with the viewers. The problem is that a fortune cookie philosophy served at the end of a bad meal doesn’t make the food taste good.