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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tomorrowland (Release Date: 5-22-2015)

        The Mouse House is feeling pretty good about itself right now. Not that a corporation as massive as Disney (and ABC and ESPN by extension) is ever really too down on its luck, but their quest for global domination feels particularly pronounced this year. 2013's Frozen ranks sixth all-time in global grosses, Avengers: Age of Ultron passed the billion dollar mark within about five minutes of its release, and they've still got another Marvel flick (Ant-Man) and two Pixar outings (Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur) on the way. Oh, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a film that Brad Bird's Tomorrowland advertises for in both metaphorical and painfully literal ways. In fact, Tomorrowland never really stops advertising, from hover cars baring loud Dodge logos across their fronts, to desperately desired Coca-Colas. Perhaps these are redundant points to make about a movie named after a section of a theme park (another product the picture wants to sell you on), but Tomorrowland's desire to celebrate the works and ideologies of Disney is all-encompassing, feverishly preaching the the Tao of Mickey, wherein creativity and hope are valued above all else.

        This prevailing glass-half-full thinking is immediately posited by our protagonist, the bright-eyed and whip-smart Casey Newton (Britt Robertson). Wether she's battling against High School teachers who see nothing in our future but gloom-and-doom, or covertly sabotaging NASA's plans to tear down a local launch-pad, Newton's every move is motivated by a forward-thinking, rose-tinted paradigm. Her attitude catches the attention of both a mysterious little girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), and a crotchety suburban hermit (George Clooney, mercifully not covered in 'hermit' make-up). Despite their differing world views, Athena and Gorgeous George agree that Casey just might have a big impact on our future, though the three will have to fight off violent robots, pessimism, and narrative non-sense on their epic journey to... Tomorrowland.

        Disney's latest marks writer/director Brad Bird's second foray into live-action filmmaking, following the massive critical and commercial success of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. The promise of that movie was immense; Bird turned the Tom Cruise vehicle into real-life Looney Tunes, churning out one bonkers moment of spectacle after another in a way that hadn't been matched by another American movie until just last week. Tomorrowland can't quite make it up to those same dizzying heights, but the film's omnipresent handsomeness is impossible to ignore, cinematographer Claudio Miranda following the rule of thirds as if it were the Bible itself. One would be forgiven for wishing the movie shared Ghost Protocol's diligent attention to spacial reasoning, but there's enough razzle-dazzle shoved into each and every frame to nearly overwhelm the average eye-ball (the tracking shot that introduces us to the world of Tomorrowland nearly justifies the price of admission on its own).

        Robertson is good, Cassidy is better, and Clooney Clooneys... because, really, what else is a Clooney to do? The acting, while serviceable, isn't the draw here, and in a strange way, neither are the efforts of Bird, nor his enormous supporting cast of technicians. The fact that Tomorrowland should serve as a two-hour cornea massage was predictable and familiar; its urgently hopeful outlook is neither. Modern Hollywood is obsessed with portraying dreary projections of mankind's future, and film-goers have rewarded them every step of the way by forking out big bucks to see The Hunger Games movies, Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, and any number of Day After Tomorrow-style depictions of mass-destruction. Tomorrowland argues against this type of thinking with its every move, from Scott Chambliss' glossy production design, to dialogue that could hardly be more on-the-nose if it tried ("It’s hard to have ideas and easy to give up,” "We all find it easy to believe in a tragic future because it asks nothing of us").

        This temperament is undoubtably a byproduct of being conceived by the most dominant family entertainment factory on the planet, but it's also tremendously rare, and wholly against the grain of what's popular in movies today. The argument I'm making in favor of the movie is decidedly more theoretical than practical, but I'd imagine those who enjoy Tomorrowland will get more satisfaction out of what it represents than what it actually is. That's certainly where I land, and while Bird's film is far from perfect, its heart is always in the right place... except for when it's blatantly pimping Star Wars. Our blockbusters have fallen so far down the rabbit hole of negativity as to make Tomorrowland something of a revelation; here's to hoping more (and better) flicks follow its lead.

Grade: B

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