On an ideological level, I really, really want to like Tomorrowland. It carries a message of hope for the future that is often missing in modern fiction, a vocal and boisterous rejection of the dystopian fiction tropes that dominate current popular culture. This is a film about how the future is not set in apocalyptic stone, but is rather in our hands to mold as we see fit, which is a fantastic message for a world that often seems apathetic in the face of massive ecological, societal, and economic problems. However, Tomorrowland bungles this message in its presentation, which shoots for the brilliance of Bioshock but ends up feeling self-defeatingly Randian in execution.
As the incredibly vague trailer campaign for this film alluded to but didn’t ever enunciate, Tomorrowland is the story of a disillusioned and bitter former boy genius (George Clooney) and a young upstart genius (Britt Robertson) trying to get to Tomorrowland, a city in an alternate universe founded by the best and the brightest of yester-century. The aesthetic is retro-futuristic in the style of what midcentury dreamers envisioned our time would be like, with jetpacks and space travel as everyday means of life. However, a vague threat looms over the known world, threatening the existence of humankind, and Clooney thinks that only Robertson has the means to stop it.
As referenced earlier, that threat comes in the form of defeatist ideologies, as humanity has predicted its own future and has become comfortable with its downfall by celebrating it in works of fiction. However, as much as the film hides the ball for the majority of its runtime, to call this message subtext would be generous. When the face of the villain is finally revealed and it is shown that his negative communications to the collective subconscious of humanity are resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy, the villain steps into the shoes of Andrew Ryan and spouts directly into the camera exactly why humanity is deserving of its fate, and the exceptional should be protected from the human waste within Tomorrowland. This is less storytelling than it is proselytizing, telling the audience without any attempt at artistry that their laziness is the cause of their own destruction. A noble objective, as I do not disagree with the sentiment, but the presentation is not likely to motivate anyone to change their outlook.
This is only further hampered by the film’s continued insistence on the exceptional as the means to bring about social change. Director Andrew Bird does not outright object to the Randian mythos of Tommorowland’s supermen, but rather embraces it, hoping to inspire a select few people to rise up and change the future for the rest of us. However, that seems rather self-defeating for a film that is trying to garner mass appeal, essentially telling its audience that the special snowflakes of society will fix everything for us and that any sort of collective action isn’t even an option. To go back to the Bioshock comparison, Rapture has not been destroyed; it has simply come under new and not dissimilar management.
Again, Tomorrowland as a concept has plenty of potential to act as a wake-up call for a society that relishes in their own imminent demise. To package that in a summer action blockbuster is a noble pursuit, and the action setpieces, while not spectacular, are entertaining at least. However, the film feels too far entrenched in the ideology of Atlas Shrugged to be anything more than shrug-worthy as a mechanism for social change. Instead of inspiring its audience to make their optimistic destinies a reality, the film simply berates its audience and tells them to let the smart people handle the hard work. But that is a surefire way to further solidify the average person’s hopelessness and turn down that person’s hope for making a difference in the world. So the good intentions backfire, and Tomorrowland remains yet another summer flop.