Review by Nate
Once upon a time it was the 21st century; and in the 21st century dystopian stories ruled the day. From renewed interest in Brave New World and 1984 to their watered down, contemporary counterparts Hunger Games and Divergent, stories of societies beyond the brink saturated the culture. In the midst of this doomsday zeitgeist Tomorrowland emerged.
Not as another echo amongst the din of apocalyptic narratives, but as a rather sophisticated and percipient challenger to the status quo. And so it was with a glad heart that I recently sat in the movie theater absorbing the awesomeness that is the story of Tomorrowland. Before I get into specifics, let me just say up front: I wholeheartedly recommend this film as both a thrilling adventure for the whole family as well as a thoughtful critique of our current, cultural disposition.
Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is the daughter of a soon-to-be laid-off NASA engineer who is doing everything in her power to ensure her father remains employed. But when her latest antic lands her in jail, she’s left with no options and a mysterious pin that was given to her by the equally mysterious Athena (Raffey Cassidy). When Casey touches the pin she sees a futuristic city bustling with people and never-before-seen technology. Thing is: no one else can see what Casey can. So the question is: Does this world really exist? Her journey to find answers leads her to the doorstep of Frank Walker (George Clooney), a reclusive inventor of very odd, yet cool gadgets (think Doc Brown without the crazy hair and buffoonery). Along the way Casey discovers she’s being followed by creepy Agent Smith wannabes with superhuman strength as well as the acrobatic, karate-chopping Athena. At the center of everything is Tomorrowland, a city that Casey knows she must get back to at all costs.
Within the first 20 minutes of the film, I thought to myself: “This movie is like The Goonies meets The Wizard of Oz.” Tomorrowland retains a welcome Spielberg/Lucas aesthetic replete with explosions, energy, and acrobatic action ala Indiana Jones. I say “welcome” because we haven’t quite seen the chemistry and magic inherent in a Spielberg/Lucas production in over 20 years. Yet director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) and writer Damon Lindelof (ABC’s LOST, Prometheus) have captured that exhilaration of adventure, the thrill of mystery. The same sense of excitement and wonder we had for Indiana Jones as he searched for the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail is here again surrounding Casey’s journey to solve the mystery of Tomorrowland.
Robertson and Cassidy are believable as the heroines of the story. Clooney and Hugh Laurie (as “Nix”) unsurprisingly play themselves, as per usual, paid to look good and speak well with their rich baritones. What is rather surprising is Tim McGraw who comes across very Dad-ly as Casey’s father, Eddie, the defeated engineer resigned to his fate. None of these performances are going win an Oscar next year but they are sufficient to drive the message of the movie, which is the most important feature in my opinion. There’s no question the movie is advocating for a return to optimism in science; and it does so by showcasing some very cool gadgets. The kids are going to love Tomorrowland’s awesome technology. My personal favorite is the antigravity pool diving.
As with a number of films, there is an aspect of Tomorrowland that lends itself to the Christian understanding of reality, particularly human beings. Early in the film Casey reminds her father of an allegorical riddle he used to tell her as a child: “There are two wolves who are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. The question is: which wolf wins?” The answer: “The one you feed.” Not only does this allegory play into the story later but it tells us something about our own desires. The Bible characterizes a constant struggle, much like the two wolves, being waged in ourselves: the flesh vs. the spirit. Galatians 5:17 says, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” The NLT characterizes this opposition as a constant fight between the flesh and the spirit. Paul spoke of his own personal struggles in this regard in Romans 7:23: “but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.”
If we succumb to our fleshly urges (examples can be found in Galatians 5:19-21), the flesh will continue to win. But if we renew our minds daily and present our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2) by the power of the Holy Spirit (8:13) our inward self will be renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). The key to tipping the balance of power in this struggle is explained this way: “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). So the answer to Casey’s riddle is our answer as well; that is, between the two wolves, the one you feed is the one who will win.
Rating 4 out of 5
Tomorrowland is a joy to watch from start to finish. For maximum viewing enjoyment, I highly recommend seeing it in IMAX and/or in Dolby Atmos. Tomorrowland is rated PG for some mild profanity, sci-fi violence, and a couple of intense scenes.