When I saw the trailer, I immediately knew I really really really wanted to see Tomorrowland. It had everything. Mad science! Chases! Pursuing robots! Plucky kids! Fantasy future! Improvised traps! But somehow, I never found the time, and the movie faded from theaters before I got to see it. I was saddened to see reviews sneering at it, although some folks seemed to have a genuinely good time. But I put it on the shelf for direct video.
I've now watched it. Twice.
Let's start with the tl;dr - Tomorrowland is not a good movie. This makes me extremely sad. What's worse, though, is that it is almost awesome. The acting is good, spot on for what it's doing. The casting is good. The effects are, of course, excellent. The scenes are good! The trailer is excellent!
In fact, most of what's good in the movie is in the trailer.
That's not to say the rest of it is terrible, because it's not. It's just that it came so close to being really really good, and it missed the last step and fell off a cliff because the story is just terrible.
No, really. I mean, awful and bad. To the point of inducing facepalm. It ruins the entire movie. Whoever was responsible for this script should be tied to a chair and forced to watch Freejack and Roadhouse and maybe The Phantom Menace until their eyes bleed and their writing neurons have run down their shoes.
So look, let's do this. I'm going to talk about specifically what's wrong with the story, and how (I think) it could have been fixed, and why it makes me crazy that they didn't do it. This will involve massive spoilers, so you should go watch the movie if you haven't and think you might want to see it. It did get near 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, after all - you might be one of those who really enjoy it, and I don't want to spoil it for you. I enjoyed it while I was watching it because every time I started to think about the plot I instinctively shied away and went back to the eyecandy; it was only as the movie rolled to a close that I was unable to avoid the horror any longer.
So. As the old joke goes, go ahead and watch it. I'll wait.
THERE ARE SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT.
I think the reason I'm so frustrated is that the trailer actually was the trailer for what looked like a fun, light timetravel romp. The movie is called Tomorrowland. There's anachronistic tech on display. Hugh Laurie for Pete's sake tells the heroine that Clooney's character wants her to 'save the future.' Time travel movie, right? Woohoo!
I have no idea. Maybe they had a rewrite that went horribly wrong, maybe someone got too obsessed with a piece of time travel paradox they couldn't handle and just went to pieces instead of doing the right thing and just hiring sam512 to unfuck their narrative. But anyway, it turns out that Tomorrowland isn't at all the future. It's another dimension.
And it turns out there was a whole secret cabal (the 'Plus Ultra') led at one point by Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison and Gustav Eiffel and Jules Verne. Whether the Plus Ultra discovered the dimension that is Tomorrowland and found it uninhabited, or just made contact with a society from there isn't terribly clear. The implication is that they colonized it, given that the inhabited part seems to consist only of the city - but uh, sorry, if they had the tech to colonize and build Tomorrowland, they wouldn't have been building clockwork steampunk spaceship launchers to get there. Where did they get this tech? Nobody knows, it's ignored. What did they do with it? Again, ignored. What happened to the Plus Ultra on earth? No idea, nobody mentions them. How was Tomorrowland built? What? Why are you asking all these questions?
David Nix (Hugh Laurie in full on Britvillain mode, doing excellently) makes even less sense. So if Tomorrowland isn't Earth-future, then why does he give a shit whether Earth is destroyed? Is Tomorrowland still reliant on Earth for things or colonists or something? No idea, never explored.
So at the end of the movie, I had absolutely no idea what was going on, and nothing but questions with no answers. Why was Tomorrowland apparently nearly-abandoned? No idea, no mention. What was Nix trying to do? Well, DESTROY THE WORLD! Okay, but why? No idea. Was the story that Tomorrowland had never achieved the version in the infomercial? Maybe, but why does it look physically identical? No idea.
The movie had all the ingredients. It had a colossal puzzle (the pin). It had a plucky heroine. It had a grumpy obi-wan figure. It had robots. It had blasters. It had stargates. It had rocket ships. It had steampunk alongside ultramodern.
Maybe that was the problem, and there was too much to reconcile.
And yet, it could have all made sense, you know? It could have been easily fixed by just making it into a time travel movie. If Tomorrowland was, in fact, the future, then almost everything makes sense. The Plus Ultra were in contact with Future Tech, which was how they did what they did. The paradox of where the tech came from would fascinate sam512 but fuck it, it's a Disney movie, handwave. Why does Tomorrowland care so much about what happens to Earth? Because if the timeline goes the wrong way, it never exists. It explains why there are so many Tomorrowland operatives running around our Earth, they're trying to make things come out right. The Sarah Connor Chronicles did this pretty effectively.
Honestly, you could have fixed nearly everything with that. I bet I know what the problem was, too - the whole movie is about a countdown clock, and I bet some eager Disney imagineer said "but if they have time travel the countdown is pointless and our tension goes away!"
Uh, genius, remember Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure? As Rufus said: "No matter where you go, no matter what you do, that clock - the clock in San Dimas - is always running." Why? WHO CARES?!??! It worked fine as a movie mechanism, and it would have worked fine here too. All you'd have to say is that although Tomorrowland has known about the oncoming Bad Event for years, they still haven't figured out how to handle it, and all you'd have to do is make time-travel be a fixed displacement - which means time flows on both sides - and it's fixed. If the Plus Ultra invented clockpunk time travel, that would explain everything - they made it through to Tomorrowland and saw the future, and Tomorrowland gets time travel. Boom. Everything fixed. The Plus Ultra, instead of being a big hole in the plot, become a plausibly small confined group who start to work towards the Tomorrowland they saw in the future, helped on the other side by Athena and the pins. David Nix just needs to have a fundamental disagreement with 'how we got here' and the detection of the 'Event' would explain that and even he makes sense except for the 'I want to destroy earth' part. And that's fixable - he's the 'history is immutable stop fucking with it' POV. It explains why Tomorrowland is one city - it's the rebuilding after the apocalypse, without which, it won't happen! That's why he wants it to happen, not because of some crazy incoherent reason! IT ALL WORKS DAMN IT.
gnarl points out that when trying to switch to a message of hope, using a bomb is suboptimal. Using a bomb in the form of a tween girl robot is even more so. I agree; had this instead involved Athena sacrificing herself by attempting to upload to the Monitor and overwrite the existing doom programming, it would have been a better ending.
God damn it, Disney. God damn it, Brad. It could have been so good.
George Clooney as Frank Walker
Britt Robertson as Casey Newton
Hugh Laurie as David Nix
Raffey Cassidy as Athena
Thomas Robinson as Young Frank Walker