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"Tomorrowland" Review: Optimism Doesn't Make Up For Stupidity

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film | May 22, 2015 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film | May 22, 2015 |

I’ve got a theory about people that applies equally to movies. There are two dimensions of people: competence and niceness. And that makes four basic quadrants to completely trivialize the human experience down into four little boxes. Competent nice people are obviously the ideal sorts of folk to work with on projects because they are joys. Incompetent assholes are easy to deal with because you fire them and don’t even feel bad. But the other two quadrants? Incompetent nice people are the absolute worst people to deal with. Because they drag you down, and then make you feel guilty for having to cut them off. Say what you want about the tenets of competent assholes, at least they get the job done.

Tomorrowland is the incompetent nice guy of films. It has the core of a good message buried in there, wrapped up with very solid acting and chemistry between the protagonists. Britt Robertson and George Clooney riff off each other perfectly (and completely unromantically), And hey, we’ve got an honest to god female protagonist (even if it is a gorgeous 25 year old who we’re being asked to believe is still in high school, straight up CW school of casting) who is intelligent and valued for it. And the largest secondary role (larger than Clooney’s) goes to 12 year old Raffey Cassidy, who is asked to carry the acting weight of an immortal android. She pulls it off marvelously, and so you should look out for her in films down the road.

It’s a film about grand ideas like hope and wanting to make the world a better place, and dreamers who are devastated by things like NASA shutting down manned spaceflight. It wants to be about optimism driving out cynicism, and being people who build rather than destroy. It’s got all of the basic components that make movies like Interstellar my very favorite of films. Tomorrowland has everything it needs to be a great movie.

And I just hated it.

It’s not that bad of a movie, if I were forced to put it on some objective scale of thumbs or stars. But it has such potential laying around in spades, right there on the screen, that it just made me angry. The script is a disaster. The eventual explanations are a muddle. It takes about 2/3 of the runtime to even reveal what the big threat that needs stopped is, and it’s absurd once revealed, and naturally solved by blowing something up. The middle quarter of the film is inexplicably a half-assed jumping through arcane old secret hoops reminiscent of dreck like National Treasure.

The protagonist, while we’re told is brilliant over and over again, never actually does anything other than go on an elaborate road trip. She had no background, no context of intelligence or hard work, no demonstration of wanting something more. Instead we’re told over and over again by other characters that she’s special. The next writer who jots down a character who is magically special for no demonstrable reason other than “because” needs tossed into a wood chipper. The final scenes are meant to inspire us to new heights of hope and optimism and instead I just wanted to light something on fire.

It’s getting praise left and right for its visuals, and I swear I have no idea why. I saw it in IMAX since there were no showings on normal screens that look exactly the same to my eyes, and was mostly impressed by how absolutely cartoonish and fake all the visuals looked.

The thing is, the movie is premised on this idea of a utopia in which the geniuses and dreamers make things. Then it all goes to hell for nonsensical plot reasons. “Imagine what would be possible if all the geniuses could go to a special place and not have to deal with bureaucrats and politicians?” One character asks rhetorically.

Well let’s see, I’d imagine nothing would get done because somebody’s got to pay for Galt City. Do you know why bureaucracy exists? In order to do those silly little things like feed and clothe and pay for the toys of the fucking geniuses. And while everyone likes to shit on politicians and bureaucrats, at least they are functioning in the real world dealing with the problems of trying to make the world work. It’s a tempting dream to think of going to another dimension where you can science all the live long day, but doing so doesn’t change a damned thing about the world. You have to live in the world and be a part of the world, in order to change it and make it a better place. On the other hand, the film at times completely bucks against this Randian bullshit, but it’s so sloppily written that it’s probably unwise to bother trying to argue with it at all.

Steve Jobs had many flaws, but he had one quote that’s always stuck with me: real artists ship. Anybody can come up with ideas, and anyone can dream, but that’s meaningless without actually doing the hard work of the real world, of creating something that moves the world. Real artists ship. Real dreamers build.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at You can email him here.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.