Film storylines taking ideas from Disney theme park rides have not been a novelty for some time, though in the wake of the Pirates of the Caribbean juggernaut this hasn't been as prolific an idea as you might have expected... presumably because other efforts in this vein weren't well received. So this time around they have opted to take ideas from the park itself along with a few of Walt Disney's own futurism beliefs. Getting Brad Bird to direct another life action feature after the forth instalment in the Mission: Impossible series was certainly a good idea, though having Damon Lindelof on board after Star Trek Into Darkness seems rather questionable to say the least. But sources of inspiration aside it was refreshing to see what seems to be for the most part to be an original project, one that captures a sense of adventure far better than 80s throwbacks like Super 8 and Earth to Echo. A new world awaits us, the world of the future... they've saved a seat on the rocket ship just for us. But how much of that is mired in heaving handed themes and clunky storytelling devices?
The opening moments of the film are a sign of things to come. Michael Giacchino's score is light and lends the intro titles a sense of excitement right out of the gate. This comes crashing to a halt when Frank (George Clooney) starts to immediately give exposition while simultaneously arguing about his ideals with off camera protagonist Casey (Britt Roberston). The chemistry between the grumpy older man and the enthusiastic leading lady does come into play a lot more effectively later but this isn't the time for them to debate their ideals when we haven't been introduced to them. Finally we get a glimpse of something special, as Frank's childhood self visits an inventors fair and stumbles across the titular world of the tomorrow. It's... well, magical? For a hardened cynic it's hard to admit. They show off the design work and effects wizardry through a great set piece full of robots, jet packs and youthful wonder. (Please let this team build a sequel to The Rocketeer one day Disney.) As Frank and his new friend Athena gaze into the distance it's hard not to grin at the prospect of a science fiction adventure straight of the early 90s coming together just when we need it. But like I said, this is a movie of false starts.
We soon get back to the present day in which Casey shows her mettle as an optimistic thinker and a technical expert, trying to save her dad's job at a defunct NASA launch site. You see the future is bad and nobody wants to know about space flight any more. Whether this reflects real world economic issues or not, this is a story about people not wanting to spend time on fancy dreams. They want disaster movies about pandemics. They teach their kids that the world of tomorrow has become A Brave New World. Subtle, this is not. Now I appreciate a topical narrative as much as the next dystopia fan, but the whole thing is so blunt and one dimensional at times. We have to save ourselves from both nuclear Armageddon and ecological disasters by remembering how to hope. Sure that's a fine character arc for the bitter Frank and a suitable goal for the heroine, but does it really need to be done with such a lack of tact in a film about Jules Verne style spaceships and robot laser battles? It's the kind of problem Elysium had, and that was a story about a world full of bleak shanty towns.
The film as a whole is fun to watch for the most part I admit. After finding a sense altering lapel pin coded to her DNA by a mystery party, Casey heads off to find out if her visions of a high tech wonderland are real and she's soon set upon by sinister toy store owners and men in black. It's fast paced and entertaining even if the one moment has the same lack of subtlety in the form of full frontal product placement, just in case you missed the news of which other space franchise the House of Mouse now owns. When things are really moving the action is kinetic and the gadgets and visual effects are a treat. This is where it feels like the story as advertised, and where the tone is appropriate. Hugh Laurie doesn't really get much to do but the rest of the cast is fine and there isn't too much schmaltz, though it does keep veering off into that whole 'save the planet' rhetoric. By the time a silly doomsday device is rolled out it succumbs to the weight of all this and breaks down, instead of retaining that fresh and breezy feeling.
BIG GAME (2014)
Does the presidential plane Airforce One really have an emergency pod like Escape from New York? These questions and more cropped up during this schlocky action feature, as Samuel L. Jackson's commander in chief finds himself in the Finnish wilderness trying to outwit armed killers. He's aided by a local boy (Omni Tommila) who was in the middle of a rather personal hunting trip; his lone rite of passage to manhood. Whether such a rite exists, again it's a question I had to ask. But it's suitable as a starting point for the story as they try to survive with only a few arrows for defence, they both have things to prove. The president isn't a physical man and the young hunter has a long way to go before becoming adept at even using a bow. The unlikely pairing is very likeable amidst such a silly premise and so many action clichés. The mountainside location and European production gives it a distinct flavour even if plenty of stock dialogue gets churned out and faces like Ray Stevenson and Jim Broadbent make an appearance. The weakest elements are all these sort of moments, silly Pentagon meeting scenes that mix of techno babble and patriotic dialogue, but it's a far better attempt at dumb entertainment than the likes of Olympus Has Fallen at least.