- - Thursday, May 21, 2015


There are moments of sheer cinematic wonder scattered throughout “Tomorrowland,” bursts of action and invention so wonderful that they tend to provoke a kind of giddy euphoria — epic futuristic vistas filled with flying whatsits and hovering thingamajigs, gleaming glass towers webbed together by impossibly spiraling infrastructure.

“Tomorrowland” is a movie about hope and the future, or more precisely about hope in the future, and these brief but inspired visions of a world gone wonderfully right are consistently able to spark that hope.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film, despite occasional flashes of fun, does not live up to these marvelous moments. The movie is too grounded in the boring present, too caught up in asking questions it is too muddle-minded answer, too invested in making promises on which it cannot deliver.

It is essentially a two-hour tease for a better movie — the movie it should have, and perhaps could have, been.

The movie’s first half-hour or so is its best: Narrated from what looks like the future, Frank Walker, played by George Clooney with an almost grandfatherly charm, takes us back to his childhood and the 1964 New York World’s Fair. He’s brought a self-invented jet pack, and, after a chance encounter, soon ends up following a girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) through the “It’s a Small World” ride into a secret passage that deposits him into a retro-futuristic wonderland — a Jetsons-esque utopia packed with robots and gizmos and vertiginous sky bridges.

It’s a secret world, the kind you immediately long to explore at length, but the movie almost instantly whisks viewers back to the dull near-present, where Florida teenager Casey Newton is summarily arrested for valiantly (we are to understand) attempting to stop the deconstruction of NASA’s space shuttle program.

On her way out of jail she receives her personal effects — plus a tiny pin she doesn’t recognize. Touching the pin whisks her away to the very same future that Frank visited all those years ago.

The movie follows Casey in the here and now as she meets Athena, still mysteriously a girl, and eventually teams up with Frank. But it is frustratingly slow and unhelpful when it comes to answering the many questions it asks, preferring instead to deliver hushed hints about some unspecified awful thing that cannot be stopped, how Casey is somehow “special,” and what happened to Frank over the years.

At times the movie seems almost comically resistant to providing basic explanatory details: At one point, Athena, who knows practically all the answers, simply conks out when Casey continues asking questions.

The script, which was originated and co-written by “Lost” showrunner Damon Lindelof, relies on the same maddening tricks and obfuscations he repeatedly used on that show: a meandering narrative, multiple important plot threads raised and left dangling, characters who irritatingly refuse to reveal basic information to each other.

Too much of the dialogue consists of grandly suggestive hints about the great wonders and gloomy terrors the future may hold. Every line appears calculated to appear on a startling preview for next week’s episode.

The difference here is that “Tomorrowland” is a two-hour film that barrels toward an end, so the inevitable disappointments of the finale come sooner.

It’s not all so clunky. Director Brad Bird, the visual miracle worker behind “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” works wonders with the movie’s smooth visuals, especially in the future-city, and directs the action scenes with a crisp, zippy ingenuity.

His vivid and imaginative work, far more than the frustrating script, consistently captures the sense of joy and awe that the movie seems desperate to evoke.

Mr. Bird’s determined humanism, however, contrasts awkwardly with Mr. Lindelof’s dopey sense of faith-based awe.

In the end, the wonder I was left with was more of the questioning sort: I wondered what it’s really about, and whether the filmmakers really understood (or agreed among themselves about) what they were trying to say about the future, the present, and all that might come in between. Sadly for a film with so much promise, I suspect they didn’t.

“Tomorrowland” is a movie that raised my hopes — and then dashed them.


TITLE: “Tomorrowland”

CREDITS: Directed by Brad Bird; screenplay by Mr. Bird and Damon Lindelof

RATING: PG for fantasy action

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes


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