“TOMORROWLAND” My rating: C
130 minutes | MPAA rating: PG
It’s overwritten, overcomplicated and overlong.
But if you can get past its narrative muddle, really irritating dialogue and a plethora of unanswered questions, “Tomorrowland” offers a potent metaphor about the triumph of human hope and ingenuity.
Wish it were enough. But this time the winning run of writer/director Brad Bird (“The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol”) has hit a major speed bump.
It’s not all bad news. George Clooney heads a fine (if not particularly well-used) cast, the state-of-the-art effects are terrific and the film (co-written by Damon Lindelof of “Prometheus,” “Star Trek Into Darkness” and TV’s “Lost”) cleverly taps into a deep well of baby boomer nostalgia.
Nevertheless, the film is an emotionally muted mess that can’t decide if it’s for kids or grown-ups.
It starts out promisingly enough. At the 1964 World’s Fair in NYC, young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) proudly submits his homemade jetpack to an invention contest.
His creation is rejected, but Athena (Raffrey Cassidy), a mysterious young girl with a Brit accent, introduces the boy to Tomorrowland, a futuristic city in another dimension. Tomorrowland is accessed by a secret portal in Walt Disney’s major fair attraction, the “It’s a Small World” ride. (Bird, a big Disney buff, rarely misses an opportunity to tap into the shared childhood memories of his generation. And the Disney studio gets a plug for its theme park ride.)
In the present we are introduced to Casey (Britt Robertson), a brainy teen whose engineer dad is working his way to unemployment by dismantling NASA’s launch pads in Florida. (Haven’t you heard? The good old USA is pretty much out of the space business.)
Casey finds herself in possession of a mysterious souvenir pin from the ’64 World’s Fair. When she touches it she is instantly transported to Tomorrowland, a bustling city of sleek towering buildings, zipping monorails and buzzing hovercraft where whatever you dream up can be made reality.
She begins investigating the origins of her pin, hooks up with Athena (who hasn’t aged a day in 50 years) and eventually finds herself with the now-adult Frank (Clooney), a hermit holed up in a farmhouse crammed with sophisticated electronics. Frank — who has a bank of TV screens monitoring environmental disasters, wars, water and food shortages, nuclear threats and social upheavals — is glumly awaiting the end of the world.
Literally. He even has an electronic clock counting down to the day a few weeks hence when it all goes to hell.