For a film made by one of the world's most powerful money-making machines and based on a theme park, Disney's Tomorrowland somehow manages to be a wholehearted tale of optimism in a doom-obsessed society.
Director Brad Bird and his co-writer Damon Lindelof are hardly subtle in the handling of their theme of hope and a better future for us all, but given how utterly miserable the world can often seem, maybe a blunt-force effort to shake a little inspiration out of us should be given a bye.
I had high expectations for this in large part due to Bird (whose previous work includes The Incredibles and The Iron Giant) and George Clooney in one of his very few summer blockbuster roles.
What gave me cause for concern however was Lindelof, who has become known – through Prometheus and Lost – for stories that don't answer the questions they set up. My hope was that Bird would be able to drill any of this out of the script, and he duly has – offering a thematically tight film with satisfying and interesting answers.
In spite of tying all the threads together well, the final third still manages to fall flat thanks to a mix of bland action, drawn out exposition and Hugh Laurie's undercooked villain. It's a crying shame, because everything up until that point is pretty great, even bordering on fantastic.
We begin with Clooney's character Frank Walker – an inventor who as a child was led to a hidden dimension called Tomorrowland in which the world's best and brightest are free to create all manner of awe-inspiring technology. A sort of Mensa-verse.
Eventually exiled, Walker lives alone, gestating in his own broken dreams until a teenager called Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) arrives on his doorstep demanding answers. She too has glimpsed Tomorrowland, and learns that she might be the last chance to save it.
Both Clooney and Robertson are excellent, their chemistry proving instantly entertaining. Young British actress Raffey Cassidy - as the third of this heroic trio – is also great as the person orchestrating this final attempt to save the day.
Credit should be heaped on Lindelof and Bird for the characterisation of their leads, in particular Robertson's Casey - who is confident, self-motivated and not bogged-down by a romantic sub-plot that some other studios might have been insistent on. There a "love story" of sorts in the film, but it's unexpected, unique and handled deftly - a rarity in modern blockbusters.
The first hour and a half is raucously entertaining, highlighted by excursions into the titular futuristic cityscape and an Easter-egg laden action sequence in a toy shop. If instilling a sense of wonder was the aim, Bird certainly achieved his goal.
The irony is that the film's problems arise once the characters finally reach their destination. Not because what we see is any less impressive, but because the film stops asking questions and starts answering them – then rounds all that off with a climactic scene dreamt up long after the once-plentiful ideas-well has run dry.
What struck me in particular were the plot threads that were ignored, but which could have been further explored once Nix's plan is revealed. We hear that the treasures of Tomorrowland were once expected to be opened up to help the wider world, but it never happened and that's the last we hear of it.
Ripe fruit was right there to be picked but instead the villain's grand plan is tepid, and undermines the character Laurie tries hard to make work with the occasional flourish.
The message of Brad Bird's latest is admirable and delivered well – hoping to inspire young generations and shoot some life into the notion of optimism that cinema should really be all about. Any film that takes a crack at pessimism is worth paying attention to, and while it may stumble towards its conclusion, for the most part Tomorrowland is a hell of a ride.