Ever an ambitious filmmaker, Bird ("The Incredibles," "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol") has his own team of talented collaborators in the story (co-written by Damon Lindeloff) of a plucky teen (Britt Robertson) who travels with a jaded inventor (George Clooney) to a high-tech wonderland.
But despite the film's assemblage of talent and noble intentions, many reviews say "Tomorrowland" is uneven in its storytelling and overly didactic.
The Times' Kenneth Turan writes, "The good news about 'Tomorrowland' is that, as directed and co-written by the gifted Brad Bird, it's the rare tentpole movie with a sense of adventure, a big summer extravaganza that's eager to do things differently."
But, Turan continues, "Ambition … is not the same as execution, and it's also true, sadly, that, as much as you wish it were otherwise, 'Tomorrowland' only works in fits and starts. Tentpoles are rarely guilty of overreaching, but 'Tomorrowland' has a tendency to feel out of control, a film that is finally more ambitious than accomplished."
The New York Times' A.O. Scott similarly says, "It's important to note that 'Tomorrowland' is not disappointing in the usual way. It's not another glib, phoned-in piece of franchise mediocrity but rather a work of evident passion and conviction. What it isn't is in any way convincing or enchanting."
Some of the images "are interesting, even startling," Scott says, but "the action is more frantic than thrilling and the sense of wonder rarely materializes." Meanwhile, Clooney is "wry and gruff, and then earnest and amiable, in a role that dozens of actors could have played," and Robertson is "perky and panicky in the same way."
In a more positive review, L.A. Weekly's Amy Nicholson says, "In a junk-food summer, Brad Bird's 'Tomorrowland' is a defiant carrot stick, a blockbuster adventure flick where the message is 'Think smart.' It's a deliberate phooey to the kiddie carnage of movies such as 'Transformers' and 'The Avengers,' which frighten children about the apocalypse before they can even spell the word."
But, she adds, "The odd thing is I suspect an inspirational movie like 'Tomorrowland' will turn off audiences who just want to see a time-waster that doesn't shame them for throwing recyclables in the trash. That's a pity."
Less impressed is the Seattle Times' Moira Macdonald, who writes, "Though it's made with great energy and inventiveness, there's something ultimately muddy about 'Tomorrowland'; it's as if director Brad Bird got so caught up in the sets and effects and whooshing editing that the story somehow slipped away."
The film does offer "plenty of pratfalls," "numerous shots of Robertson staring in wonderment" and "enough goofy sci-fi action to keep the kids in the theater leaning forward in their seats," Macdonald continues. "But Clooney, despite some impressive movie-star stubble, is given little chance to demonstrate his trademark charisma … and all that whooshing around in time and space gets tiring by the movie's final third."
Variety's Justin Chang says, "The forces of mediocrity have largely prevailed over 'Tomorrowland,' a kid-skewing adventure saga that, for all its initial narrative intrigue and visual splendor, winds up feeling like a hollow, hucksterish Trojan horse of a movie — the shiny product of some smiling yet sinister dimension where save-the-world impulses and Disney mass-branding strategies collide."
Although there are set pieces that "duly explode with a welcome sense of invention and limitless possibility," Chang continues, they're "separated across long stretches of clunky storytelling, overbearing action and tiresome character interplay, and undermined by a narrative that never delivers the surge of escapist excitement seemingly promised at the outset."
Mounting a particularly spirited defense of the movie is New York magazine's David Edelstein, who calls "Tomorrowland" the "most enchanting reactionary cultural diatribe ever made." Bird, he says, "is mounting nothing less than a full-throated assault on the nihilism, dystopianism, and what might be called the fetishization of apocalypse in today's movies, TV shows, and books — especially YA books that worm their way into the fantasies of impressionable kids."
If Bird at times "gets carried away with his critique of all things critical," his movie still "moves lightly from scene to scene, its follow-the-bouncing-ball ease a reminder that Bird has always straddled two worlds, his animation grounded by love of classic cinema, his live-action films liberated by an animator's sense of possibilities."
Besides, Edelstein asks, "how many more plague–flood–road warrior–kids-killing-kids movies do we need?"
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