Before the lights came down at a recent weekend evening screening of Tomorrowland, a commercial—tucked in among movie trailers and reminders to purchase a tub of popcorn and gallon of soda—flashed up on big-screen. The Walt Disney Company, masters of all things synergistic, apparently thought it was a good idea to bundle Tomorrowland—a tedious film with no beginning, middle or end, let alone a tomorrow—with a promotion urging the audience to visit "the real thing," at the company's legacy theme park in California. The big-screen ad included faded but lovely home movies of a family visiting Disneyland, circa 1964, when the park was only around 9 years old. The narrator of the advertisement was a 70-something grandpa type, beckoning the audience to return to Anaheim, Calif., with him. That's pretty much all you really need to know about Tomorrowland, the movie: It's a vision of a tomorrow, still frozen from the Cold War-era, which would be about the time grandpa (then a boy) first set foot inside the Magic Kingdom. In hindsight, Mr. Disney's concept of "tomorrow" wasn't overly stellar. It included Space Mountain, an indoor roller coaster covered by a facade and carrying visitors through his theme park on ridiculously slow-moving conveyor belts—they called them "people movers." Now, the movie studio bearing Walt's name echoes that one-dimensional vision by unleashing 2015's arthritic Tomorrowland. Spoiler alert: There's a pivotal scene in Tomorrowland in which George Clooney flies through the air in a bathtub. I swear on a stack of Donald Duck comic books that's true. Tomorrowland is practically irrelevant and impractically dull.
Several times during the screening, I glanced around to gauge the audience's interest, or lack thereof. In the semi-packed theater, I counted six adults on their smartphones and a few dozen kids furious with their parents for dragging them to such a tedious bore. Nearly everyone appeared as if they wanted to be somewhere else instead of Tomorrowland—even the Disneyland of yesteryear would have been more exciting.
I can't recall being more disappointed in a movie for what it didn't turn out to be. I was similarly disappointed in still another futuristic movie, Mad Max: Fury Road, but for what it indeed did turn out to be: a repetitive orgy of post-apocalyptic carnage and misogyny. Coincidentally, as I was leaving Tomorrowland, I noticed how many parents were dragging grade-school age children into Mad Max. Having seen the hard-R-rated film, I cringed and couldn't help but wonder which kids had it worse-off: those dragged to see the bathtub-piloting Clooney or those forced to endure the hyper-violence of Mad Max's angry, vengeful title character (played by Tom Hardy).
Both Tomorrowland and Mad Max: Fury Road are doing boffo business. Tomorrowland had the top box-office numbers for the coveted Memorial Day Weekend, and Mad Max has reaped nearly $150 million in only two weeks, already matching its production budget. The critics have not been kind to Tomorrowland, but they have mad love for Max. The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy called it "amazing." A.O. Scott of The New York Times, described it as "humble and indomitable," and Rolling Stone's Peter Travers wrote writer/director George Miller is an "indisputable visionary genius."
I respectfully disagree with McCarthy and Scott, and while I concede Travers' labeling of Miller as a genius, I struggle with Miller's vision. While many of the world's top film critics have heralded Charlize Theron's performance as Imperator Furiosa, a one-armed modern feminist heroine and Max's equal, Theron's machisma masks Miller's insistence on pairing her with a female fivesome, each with perfect skin and all wearing some variation of a bikini. This bronzed quintet—looking like they just flew in from a Vanity Fair photo shoot—employs a preposterous mix of accents: one sounds like she's from the East Side of Manhattan while another appears to be auditioning for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Mixed with the villains' bizarre Cockney accents, Theron's homogenized American accent and Hardy's Australian growl, and the desert dialect is quite perplexing. Director Miller tends to let his machines do most of the talking in this film, however, and this Max, a reboot of Miller's own 1979 classic (starring Mel Gibson), could have been outlined on the back of a matchbook.
Thrill-seekers will be sated: Mad Max opens with a rather spectacular 15-minute overture of violence that dares its audience to look away; but in spite of the machines' RPMs, Max really never goes anywhere. Instead, the story rinses and repeats its rage (actually it swishes and spits) for the better part of two hours.
Tomorrowland is an idea in search of a movie, Mad Max: Fury Road is a movie in search of an idea. If this is what tomorrow looks like, wake me when it's over.