Thursday, 28 May 2015

Tomorrowland; Ayn Rand for the under-fives

Tomorrowland has stumbled coming out the gate, which is a pretty good piece of meta-commentary by the audience. The whole movie is one big message about how expecting the worst will give you the worst, and just to hammer the point home, here’s a pretty good movie which everyone believes is a bad one because no-one bothered to go.

Well, not no-one. It cost north of $190 million to make and market Tomorrowland and it only made about $30 million in its opening weekend, so obviously this is a disaster and the film has flopped and we must all stay away from it lest the fail rub off on us. But that’s 1% of the population of the USA giving it a couple of hours over the weekend. How is that failure?

Of course, the movie itself would probably argue that it’s the smartest 1%, because the other big message in the movie is that mere managers and politicians should just get out of the way and let genius roll its sleeves up. Yes, I had a great time, but it is kind of cuddly Ayn Rand for the under-fives and I wouldn’t be hugely upset if that kind of message went unheard. The elites are doing just fine and the last thing anyone needs is more propaganda for their viewpoint.

And yet. It’s a good movie. The message is either diabetically sweet or stealth libertarianism, but it’s carried off with real skill and good performances. It’s that rare thing, a movie full of CGI which gets a job done without making a fuss about it. The world of tomorrow has to look amazing and CGI is the only way to go, but it doesn’t dominate the screen the way other effects-heavy trash tends to. Brad Bird knows how to keep a balance between the wonder and the people who are experiencing the wonder; more than that, he knows that the wonder doesn’t mean anything unless we care about the people in the middle of it.

Which is where the writing and the acting comes in. George Clooney is on the publicity material, but the hard work’s being done by the two young women. I’d never heard of Britt Robertson or Raffey Cassidy, but they’re both great. Raffey Cassidy may well be the next Chloe Moretz. Britt Robertson isn’t in that kind of league, but she does a great job of making Casey Newton a believable smart young woman; there’s a moment half way through when she snaps at Clooney’s “Wait….” with “What? So more robots can come and kill us?”; she’s built the character so thoroughly that it rings utterly true. This is a smart girl who’s had a hard day and is all out of patience, and it’s all there in one line. Rafael Cassidy’s Athena ought to be a messy cliche, but instead she’s a delight playing an old-beyond-her-years robot girl who veers between perfect aplomb and even more perfect ass-kicking. She’s like Hit-Girl’s swear-free English cousin. Astonishingly, she’s not even in the trailers; I almost feel like I’m engaging in spoilers to mention that she exists. But yes, she exists and she’s the best thing in the movie. Which takes a bit of doing when the grown ups are led by George Clooney and Hugh Laurie both with the charm turned up to eleven.

All in all, it’s well worth your time. You may not agree with the message - I was rooting for Hugh Laurie’s villain, whose last big speech made a lot more sense to me - but you’d need to be dead not to get a kick out of the delivery system.

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