Big Screen :: Tomorrowland
June 1st 2015
Brad Bird is a genius who has, until now, made only really, really good movies. Therefore, I am shocked and disappointed to report that his new movie, Tomorrowland, sucks.
I wanted to love it, believe me, but this is grade-A garbage – super dumb, vaguely offensive, preachy and deathly dull.
I need to add a quick caveat to that, though, because the last three movies I watched before Tomorrowland were all called Mad Max: Fury Road and it is possible that this could have somehow broken my critical compass. In the immediate aftermath of Fury Road I reckon I could have been the guest of honour at an orgy held during a metal concert and still have found it boring. But whatever. Tomorrowland was still crap.
First, I want to talk about the film itself. The conceit of the movie is that all of the world’s great thinkers and geniuses have figured out a way to travel to an alternate dimension where they have built a sort of utopia. Through some sketchy and unclear recruitment processes, they have harvested all of the best and brightest people and invited them to come to Tomorrowland – where they are free to create whatever they like without having to worry about regulations, bureaucrats or critics. There, they have built jetpacks, spirally buildings, space ships and all manner of floating crap. It feels like they have probably figured out clean energy and cured disease.
But here is the thing… they don’t share it.
All of these geniuses and great minds are not working to better humanity, they are in it for themselves.
They have given up on the rest of us, and are just working for the betterment of Tomorrowland. I don’t know who built this place, by the way, because you can bet that tradies and bricklayers are not welcome, only delicate geniuses. I bet it was built Dubai-style by migrant workers without inconveniences like minimum wage and OH&S, which are really just barriers to creativity and success (just ask Gina Rinehart).
My point is that the movie has this objectivist* Ayn Rand streak that is just kind of gross. It’s possible that I only think this because my actual day job is as a bureaucrat and I’m also a critic who works for free, which I think makes me the enemy of all that is good and pure in the world according to Tomorrowland. Also, Ayn Rand.
That’s okay: I can still celebrate movies that have different politics to me – even the horrific politics of this movie – so none of this would matter if Tomorrowland were good. But it’s terrible.
Structurally, it’s a mess: sailing past two hours even though it barely has a story, just an idea. It’s like the movie is just Act 1 and then an epilogue. There are endless wheel-spinning set-pieces that have to happen before we even get to know what the movie is about and what these people want, making it impossible to care. The movie spends literally four-fifths of its running time assembling its characters and establishing their mission. And then, one and three-quarter hours in when we find out the movie’s big idea, it’s so profoundly dumb that I actually started laughing my arse off in the cinema.
Note that this is not a spoiler, unless you think that the premise of the movie is a spoiler.
Tomorrowland thinks that the entertainment that we consume impacts on our future, and that when we used to consume optimistic sci fi** our future was bright. Now, however, we have become obsessed with apocalyptic visions of our future and so we are actually making an apocalypse inevitable. And some machine is helping this happen. Or something. Believe me, it’s just as terribly explained and executed on screen.
The thing is that there is an interesting kernel of an idea here. It’s easier to be negative then positive, and if we’re all convinced that doom is inevitable, then we can absolve ourselves of any responsibility to fix it. I love the idea of a movie that celebrates optimism and achievement, and I bet Brad Bird loves that idea too. Unfortunately, he has just made a terrible movie that tries to celebrate optimism and achievement but instead gets hopelessly confused and falls in a heap.
That said, I never thought I would see George Clooney have a tender moment with a robot while flying a jetpack, so Tomorrowland at least gave me that.
*If you, like me, watched The Incredibles and thought “Wow this is a great movie, but Brad Bird seems to think it’s really a big problem that little children who are stronger and smarter than other kids are not able to lord it over them by celebrating their superiority while simultaneously underlining the others’ faults. Surely he is not an Objectivist?” Yep, looks like he just might be…
**You know, like Logan’s Run, Metropolis, Soylent Green, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Planet of the Apes and The Day The Earth Stood Still.
MORE FROM SAM CLARK: