Up With Science

Tomorrowland takes a stand for a better future

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Tomorrowland
Galaxy, Southland
4 out of 5

A sure-fire way to tell if a movie is any good is by keeping track of the physical reactions it triggers. The conclusion of Tomorrowland had me desperately trying to control my sobbing as I was surrounded by critics (they are judgy people, it’s in the job description).

Next to those dystopian scenarios that are all the rage today (Mad Max: Fury Road, young-adult franchises using teens as cannon fodder), Tomorrowland is an anomaly. Here is a movie that stands for science and optimism. It doesn’t question the reality of evolution, social inequality or climate change, they’re a given. It targets those who know about mankind’s most pressing problems and don’t do anything about it.

It also works just fine as a sci-fi adventure for kids, in case you’re wondering.

Tomorrowland refers to a place in a parallel universe in which science and technology unfold free of political and economic constrains, with the betterment of mankind as the only goal (it’s a liberal nirvana.) Unfortunately, most of humanity is stuck in this ailing world, including Casey (Britt Robertson), the film’s lead.

The willful teenage daughter of a NASA engineer, Casey is an optimist at heart. She believes science has the capacity to right all the wrongs in the planet but lacks the agency to turn things around. Her “can-do” attitude gets Casey in trouble with the law, but also in touch with a portal to Tomorrowland. Increasingly outlandish escapades ensue.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned the purported star of the movie, George Clooney, yet. It’s really Britt Robertson’s film and she carries with ease. In fact, Tomorrowland skews heavily towards younger audiences, while remaining interesting for adults most of the time. Clooney has the crabby mentor role and it suits him. He can go from cruel to warm in record time. That said, the true scene-stealer is pint-size 12 year-old Raffey Cassidy, who plays Tomorrowland’s equivalent of Alice in Wonderland’s white rabbit.

Tomorrowland has a weakness: as the action escalates, the film becomes increasingly (and unnecessarily) complicated. Scriptwriter Damon Lindelof (LostPrometheus) is a superb character builder but he tends to paint himself into corners. Good thing director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, the fourth Mission: Impossible, The Iron Giant) has a unique visual sense that keeps the audience invested even when the plot deadens.

There’s something to be said for a movie that criticizes NASA funding cuts. Tomorrowland is not shy about taking sides and deserves credit for that.

2015-05-28