THE GREAT PROMISE of the Space Age—an era Tomorrowland gleefully fetishizes—was a combination of optimism and humanism. The Space Age asserted that science could, and would, solve the world's problems. While there are bits of that philosophy in Tomorrowland, they're hard to find, and harder still to piece into anything coherent. For all its ambition, Brad Bird's adventure film feels like a movie where entire scenes have gone missing, even as others blur by in a jumble of technobabble. By the time Tomorrowland ends, the only thing that's clear is that George Clooney might want to fuck an eight-year-old robot.
Besides robots, there are other sci-fi trappings: jet packs and rocket ships, rayguns and chrome cityscapes, all glued together with slapstick pratfalls and clever visuals. (Because it's a Disney production, there's also product placement: Disneyland, Coke, and Disney's latest $4 billion acquisition, Star Wars, all get screentime.) There are evil androids who get as bludgeoned as a PG rating will allow, while lip service is paid to climate change, overpopulation, and war. All of it tumbles by—exhaustingly, bewilderingly, disappointingly.
And of Tomorrowland—a place where Tomorrowland spends surprisingly little time—there's something that hurts about the place, at least for those of us who still want to believe in the ideals of the Space Age. Not only is Tomorrowland an Ayn Randian haven where only the elite are welcome (this utopia is strictly off-limits for those of us who aren't geniuses), but it's only through a kind of magical thinking, not science, that its example might save our planet. Towards the end of the film, the villainous Nix (Hugh Laurie) lectures about how humanity, out of laziness and cynicism, has embraced dystopia. It's the most heartfelt and true moment of the film—and yet Tomorrowland offers nothing, aside from some hollow catharses, to argue against it. That doesn't feel like optimism. That feels like cynicism.