A retro-futurist mess that’s entertaining and full of wonder

“The future just isn’t what it used to be,” muses one character early in this whimsical medley of ideas and “wow!” moments. Well said, as Brad Bird’s (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) latest $200 million effort addresses mankind’s constantly changing views on what the future may (could, should) hold. Narratively, this one’s all over the place (and time).

George Clooney is a disillusioned, middle-aged, former whiz-kid inventor (played as a youngster at the 1964 Worlds Fair by Thomas Robertson) who has seen the future and is not happy about it. Opposite him is Britt Robertson as a smart, young optimist. Raffey Cassidy is an android girl who thinks these two are the key to fixing our troubled world and “invites” them to visit the titular place/time. Hugh Laurie, its governor, is a sort-of villain, a realist whose pointed, third-act monologue about apocalypse apathy represents the film’s most coherent message.

So this grounded fantasy is a mess, but it’s a globe-trotting, time-traveling, retro-futurist mess that’s entertaining, inventive, and full of surprises and wonder. Downside: I don’t think the writers knew how to wind it up, and the ending is a bit underwhelming. But getting there is plenty fun. (130 min)