Tomorrowland movie review: George Clooney scowls and spoilers abound

This review of Tomorrowland is full of spoilers, so don’t keep reading it unless you’ve already seen it or you don’t plan to see it – and based on the mere six people in the theater on a Saturday night, I’m guessing almost all of you are in the latter category, so in that case read on. The movie is entertaining, but almost certainly not in the way its creators intended. I can’t believe Disney allowed this film to be made, not necessarily because it’s bad, but because… I don’t know what I just watched.

We start off with George Clooney doing a selfie video for a few seconds, solely so we understand that the little boy who dominates the early portion of the movie is him as a kid. He’s in the past, he’s built a jet pack, and Hugh Laurie is being a jerk to him. Now he’s on the It’s a Small World ride at the World’s Fair. No wait, now he’s in Tomorrowland, and aside from the part where he would have died if not for his jet pack, it seems like a pretty cool place.

It’s odd how Disney went out of its way to not show Tomorrowland itself in any of the trailers or advertisements, yet the movie reveals it almost immediately. In fact those nonsensical promos led me to believe this was the kind of movie that the studio had no idea how to market, so it just threw a bunch of disjointed cool looking scenes into the trailer at random. And after seeing the film, I can’t really blame them.

All the early Tomorrowland scenes with Kid Clooney are visually appealing, but aside from introducing a little girl who’s clearly not quite right, end up serving no real plot purpose. So after twenty minutes we’re back to Adult Clooney and his selfie cam, and it turns out he’s seriously cranky. You know that episode of ER where his character got angry and quit, and you could tell it was based on Clooney no longer wanting anything to do with the show? Why is he this angry? Did he not want to be in this movie either?

Now we’re back to Kid Clooney, and he’s got an older teenage sister who is some kind of pro-environment terrorist. It’s funny how many pro-environment terrorists there are in works of fiction, yet how few there are in real life. Except, no, the girl gets out of jail and suddenly she’s not a terrorist anymore, she’s just misunderstood or something. And now Clooney has a different actor playing his father. And the sister has an iPhone. Wait, that’s not Kid Clooney in the past, it’s some other little boy in the present day with the same shag haircut. So the teenage girl isn’t clooney’s sister. Oh boy, I’m only twenty minutes in and I’ve already lost the plot. Is this Agents of SHIELD?

The teenage girl is suddenly in Tomorrowland, except not really, she’s walking through a lake. She goes to a prop store to glean information, and suddenly this movie feels like the slapstickier parts of Men In Black. The friendly couple in the shop are evil robots, the little girl from the past shows up and suddenly has superhuman powers. Now robots are getting their heads ripped off by a mutant child throwing a tantrum. Is this a Stephen King novel? Then a bunch of mafia type guys show up and kill a bunch of policemen. Maybe this is Scarface.

Now the big girl and the little girl are on a road trip and they’re arguing about which of them should drive. The little girl wins, because of course she does. I never saw the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but I’m guessing this scene was inspired by it. Now they’re at Clooney’s house. Wow is he ever angry. And cursing a lot. I think he curses in half the scenes. Is the profanity aimed at making this movie appeal to adults, or is Clooney really this upset about being in it?

She gets into his house by lighting a bulldozer on fire. You’re going to regret this, Clooney, when your fans start using this method to try to get into your real house. Now the home is being invaded and they’re hiding in the inner layer. Is this Panic Room? Wait, I recognize this scene from the trailer. The movie is half over and they’re finally going to climb into a bathtub and blast off to Tomorrowland. Except no, the bathtub simply tosses them into a lake. The trailer wasn’t just incoherent, it was flat out falsified. They’re still nowhere near Tomorrowland. This is worse than standing in line for Space Mountain. The little girl is back again. She’s a robot with special powers. Is this the new Terminator movie?

Now the three of them are on another road trip. This has turned into the Traveling Pants Plus George Clooney. He’s even more angry than ever. Did he take this role just so he could yell at these girls? Does he want them to get off his lawn? Because he really does not seem like he wants to be in this movie, and he’s not gonna pay a lot for this muffler. Now, ninety minutes into the movie, they’re finally climbing into some kind of chamber which is going to transport them to Tomorrowland, right? Wrong. France.

The teenage girl loses all of her blood sugar in the chamber, but she’s magically saved by drinking a Coke. I knew I gave up soda too soon. Is this some kind of product placement? Now she’s belching as a result of drinking the Coke. Six, seven belches. Maybe it’s not product placement. Unless Pepsi paid for it.

They’re in the Eiffel Tower, having a conversation with wax dummies of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. It’s as if Clooney took all the salary for himself and they didn’t have room in the budget for real actors, so they used wax dummies instead. Turns out Tesla built the Eiffel Tower to be some kind of rocket ship and Edison stole credit. Okay that’s genuinely funny. Except apparently the two saw eye to eye just long enough to decide they should create wax dummies of themselves and leave them behind in a secret room they thought no one would ever be in. It’s like Hall of Presidents without the Presidents.
At this point I’ve mentally checked out from having any emotional investment in the film, its characters, or its outcome, and I’m really just sitting there trying to come up with clever mocking lines for my review. I’ve reached the point where I no longer want the movie to suddenly become good, because then my material might go to waste. Now the Eiffel Tower is blasting off into space, finally headed to Tomorrowland.

And it’s a dump. You know that scene in one of the Wizard of Oz spinoffs where they come back to the Emerald City forty years later and it’s caving in on itself due to lack of long term maintenance? Is there such a movie or did I just make that up? Anyway that’s what happened to Tomorrowland. All this buildup and it looks like what would happen to the real Tomorrowland at Disney World if it were taken over by a profit mining company owned by Mitt Romney and driven into the ground.

Someone gets up and walks out of the theater. Have they given up on the movie entirely, or do they just have to pee? I have to pee. Why am I not getting up to go pee? I guess at this point I want to find out how this series of random scenes claiming to be a movie ends up resolving itself. And then Clooney goes and tells the teenage girl not to pee on him. I’m not making that up.

One hundred minutes into the movie it turns out the teenage girl, the one who has spent the entire plot not being able to figure out any of what’s going on around her, is some kind of genius who’s going to save the world. “Am I supposed to… do something?” she asks. Yeah, she’s as stunned about turning out to be the smart one as we are.

Oh good Hugh Laurie is back. I think he’s the bad guy. Darn, I like him better as the cranky anti-hero than as the cranky cartoon villain. I guess the world is going to end after all but it’s not his fault. He’s deep into a powerful monologue, he’s pretty much taken over the movie, and he’s making good points. He tried to save the world by flooding people with visions of their own impending demise so they’d sober up, but that didn’t work. The teenager suggests doing the opposite. They seem to all be in agreement. Good, this will be over soon.

Wait, no, instead of all agreeing to carry out the plan they’ve all now realized is going to work, they decide to get into a fistfight instead. Isn’t this how the Monkees broke up? Clooney gets the upper hand because Laurie is wearing a smart watch with truly weak security measures. Serves him right for buying a Samsung Watch. If he’d bought the Apple Watch, he could have won.

Now Clooney and Laurie are on a beach arguing and fighting and swearing a lot. I think this may be a sequel to Grumpy Old Men. Remember when Clooney was young and he was in the Facts of Life? Does anyone even know he was on that? I bet Young Clooney didn’t envision this future, in which he’d be rolling around on the beach with House when a giant robot drops on them.

That’s right. Suddenly there’s a giant robot on rollers on the beach. Wait, is that Wall-E? Ouch. Nevermind. I hope that wasn’t Wall-E. Now something falls on Laurie and crushes his leg. Cue the joke about how Dr. House ended up needing a cane. These in-jokes have to be on purpose. I’m not just imagining all these allusions, right?

Stop reading now if you still want to see this movie and have any mystery about how it ends. Seriously, I’m about to spoil the whole thing for you. And out of my 2,267 friends on Facebook who may be reading this, the odds are at least two or three of you may end up seeing this movie, so don’t let me ruin it.
You’ve been warned. The little robot girl, who has been in every scene for the past half hour despite not having a single line, decides to sacrifice herself to save Clooney. Now she’s dying, and it turns out she’s been in love with him since they were both kids. Clooney’s crying like a baby. Maybe it’s because it’s finally set in that even after he makes his next successful movie, he’ll still be answering questions about what possessed him to be in this stinker. No wait, this is actually getting poignant. Wait, am I going to end up liking this film after all?

Uh, no. Clooney has just figured out that the only way to save the world is to use the self destruct button on the dying robot girl. Oh come on, you almost sucked me in, and now you’re blowing up a dead girl. I want my money back. No, not for the movie. I’m over that. I want my money back on my annual pass to Disney World, because I just realized that the real Tomorrowland doesn’t have any of this cool stuff.

But anyway the dead girl explodes (and if it gave me pause to type that phrase in a review, it should have given a Disney screenwriter much greater pause to type it in a script), and the world is saved. At least they only blew up half the kids? I’ve spent the entire movie wondering where I recognize the teenage girl from, and just now I realize she looks like Kimmy Gibler. Wait, is this the Full House reboot? Hey, George Clooney is finally acting happy. Maybe he’s a Full House fan too.

Now the movie gets all high minded and a bunch of new robot children are created so they can go out and find more smart people like Kimmy Gibler and invite them all to come to Tomorrowland so they can continue saving the world. We’ll just ignore the fact that the mere existence of Tomorrowland appears to have been what nearly destroyed the world to begin with. They’ll get it right this time because Clooney is smiling.

Come to think of it, if they’re building new robot children, why didn’t they just rebuild the dead robot girl? Oh well. This is one of those movies where somebody from Team Good Guys had to die because no one on the writing team could figure out any other way to create a poignant moment. I get it. I just don’t know why they couldn’t have killed off the Edison wax dummy.

So things end on a high note, and I’m left to feel as if I’ve just spent two hours drifting aimlessly through the swamp, only to randomly arrive at a cool destination. Which come to think of it kind of describes the real-life drive to Disney World. The other four people start clapping, and they decide to stay to see if there’s anything at the end of the credits. Not me, I really have to pee. And besides, this movie is so unhinged and unpredictable it might have a post-credits scene that ends up ruining what I did like about it.

Now I’m walking home, and two improbable things happen. One is that a man on the corner calls me “homie” and tries to sell me his antique typewriter. Swear I’m not making that up, and it makes as much sense as anything else I’ve witnessed in the past two hours. The other is that, the more I start thinking about the merits of the movie as a whole, instead of the individual parts, the greater it seems. Now that I’m no longer stuck watching it, I’m suddenly appreciating its merits much more. Is this like breaking up with your girlfriend because she kind of sucks, and then looking back realizing she was alright and you were just being a jerk the whole time? Asking for a friend.

I’ll give Tomorrowland credit for this: it was a failure in a lot of ways, but it was an ambitious, original, inventive failure. Which means I’m not sure it failed at all. It wasn’t a sequel like most movie are these days. It wasn’t falsely based on a true story like so many lazy films. It wasn’t a bastardization of a popular novel (see, now thinking about this movie is making me want to swear too). In fact it didn’t even really try to promote the real life Tomorrowland. I wonder how many people stayed away because they assumed it was nothing but an amusement park promotional vehicle.

Have we grown so accustomed to the narrow window of movies we’re now being fed that we’re no longer up for a disjointed original adventure that just might be a fun ride? Or was this movie truly such an unhinged mess that I was justified in spending most of the running time making fun of it in my head? I just don’t know.

This movie could have been five times better if the confusing frame story were thrown out, if the plot had been told linearly instead of jumping around in different timelines, if the director could have settled on one tone for the movie instead of stapling incompatible scenes together like Pulp Fiction, if the casting department had the sense to pick two little boys who didn’t look exactly like each other, if any of the execs had stepped in and said you can’t have the climax be that Clooney blows up the little girl, and so on. It’s a testament to the inventiveness of the film that despite dozens of easily identifiable makes and wrong choices by the people who made it, it still ended up having a watchable quality.

In fact there seems to have been no oversight here at all. It was made by some of the Pixar people within Disney, which shows just how much power they now have within the company. Part of me wants to tell them to stick to making cartoons, where you can get away with the incongruities much more easily. But part of me wants to see big studios keep greenlighting unhinged projects like this one, because some of them will end up being really good. I will say this: in this instance I wish there had been much more executive meddling in the making of this movie. And I know I’ve never said that before.

The really lousy part for me? Now that I’ve had all these revelations about the film after the fact, I’m probably going to have to watch it again just to see if it holds up differently. But I’ll wait until the home release. Besides, before I can watch it again, it’ll take me at least six months to figure out what I just watched.

Will Stabley
Will Stabley is the Founder and Senior Editor of Stabley Times.
Will Stabley