THE TOMORROW WAR ½
R, 140 mins.
2021, R, 140 mins.
Chris Pratt as Dan Forester / Yvonne Strahovski as Romeo Command / J.K. Simmons as Slade / Betty Gilpin as Emmy / Sam Richardson as Charlie / Jasmine Mathews as Lt. Hart / Edwin Hodge as Dorian / Mary Lynn Rajskub as Norah / Ryan Kiera Armstrong as MuriDirected by Chris McKay / Written by Zach Dean
Amazon Prime's carelessly brainless THE TOMORROW WAR is so inexplicably generic, uninspired, and easily forgettable as far as alien invasion/time travel thrillers go that I doubt that I'll remember it in a day or so after posting this review.
for theatrical release, but then postponed because of the pandemic and
later bought for a whopping $200 million by the streaming and online
retail giant, this Chris McKay directed affair has a promising premise
that's undone by fairly idiotic scripting.
Worse yet is that the film so lazily cherry picks from so many
iconic sci-fi properties of yesteryear (like ALIENS, THE THING, THE
TERMINATOR, and INDEPENDENCE DAY to name a few) that it feels more like a
hatchet job than something truly original and rousing.
Not even the everyman appeal and swagger of star Chris Pratt (also
executive producing here) can save this massive budgeted blockbuster dud.
Time travel is,
for lack of a better word, tricky in films.
Getting too wrapped up in the convoluted and head spinning ordeal
of paradox can alienate and drive audiences mad, whereas dumbing down the
material threatens to turn off viewers even more.
THE TOMORROW WAR subscribes to the latter creative hemisphere.
It's not that this film's premise is without intrigue: Humans from
the extraterrestrial ravaged post apocalyptic 2050s time travel back to
the present pre-interspecies war to recruit humans to come back with them
to help with eradicating this menace from the stars once and for all.
So, yeah, kind of cool.
Unfortunately, once you start modestly picking apart the internal
logic of this concept (and one rather large premise-destroying loophole
that constantly sticks out to threaten the very essence of this story)
then sitting through THE TOMORROW WAR because a real slog.
This is perhaps one of the flimsiest written films about time
travel in a long time, and the screenplay unintentionally forces us to ask
so many questions about its own temporal logic that it becomes
THE TOMORROW WAR
opens in the present (well, 2022) and showcases the arrival of soldiers
from 2051 coming through a wormhole (conveniently during a mass televised
soccer match) to announce their presence to humanity.
The future of the planet is grim, to say the least.
A mankind hungry alien race arrived on Earth to lay waste to it,
and during the ensuing war nearly everyone in the world has been
eliminated, leaving just scattered pockets of survivors trying to fend off
extinction. Man power is in
such low availability in 2051 that what's left of the leaders have decided
to embark on an audacious plan: Recruit as many people from the present as
possible to jump (ahem!) back to the future to stop the aliens.
Thus begins a worldwide military draft to send thousands by the
week into tomorrow, with Dan Forester (Pratt, playing a Chris Pratt-ian
character at his most Pratt-iest) being selected as a prime candidate due
to his extensive military background.
He's forced to say goodbye to his loving wife in Emmy (a wasted
Betty Gilpin) and his young daughter in Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) to go
into the quickest boot camp in military history alongside other draftees
to prepare themselves for the time jump to come.
Dan and his fellow soldiers are equipped with special armband devices that are surgical grafted to them called "jumplinks" that allow for them to bend time. One thing that gnaws away at these frightened cadets is (a) they are never briefed on the aliens themselves and (b) nearly 80 per cent of the draftees that go into the future never make it back. Dan commits himself to his seven day tour of future duty to come with the gumption of a pro, and upon arrival in Miami of 2051 he and his crew are alarmed at the devastated state of the world alongside the ravenously unstoppable aliens that seem thoroughly unkillable. After surviving his first close encounter of the most deadly kind, Dan meets up with a local colonel (Yvonne Strahovski) that wants to use Dan and his leadership skills to help her secure a much needed serum that can instantly and fatally kill all of the aliens, but that will involve the nearly impossible task of capturing one of them alive.
By the way, the
real identity of this colonel is about as easy to deduce as it gets and is
never as plot twisty as the writers think it is here.
Okay, so let's
talk about time travel logic (I know, it's a deep rabbit hole, but hear me
out). It's been established
that the time travel device used by future humans is only capable of
sending people back and forth from 2051 to 2022.
Past humans cannot be recruited from any other time.
can deal with that. But is
sending soldiers back from 2051 to 2022 to recruit people (many of whom
seem hardly able to lift a gun, let alone shoot one) seem like the best
usage of such monumental technology?
The script provides answers as to why they recruit who they have
to, but it feels like such a hasty and unsatisfying afterthought (in
short, they only send people from the past that are dead in the future to
avoid paradox issues, but since there's only 500,000 people left on Earth
in the future this simply doesn't matter).
That, and why recruit anyone from the past in the first place?
Why not send people back to research the origins of the aliens and
their arrival to prevent it from ever happening in the first place?
Or, why not send people back to
spend decades to prepare defenses against the aliens that could save the
planet? Wouldn't that make more sense?
Didn't THE TERMINATOR films teach us that the future is not set?
Moreover, why send people from today into tomorrow to be basically
served up as alien food? It's
all enough to make your eyes roll into the back of your skull thinking
about the sheer sluggishness of the scripting here when it comes to
tackling these and many more questions.
It also makes no
sense whatsoever to take everyday civilians and give them...just a few
hours of training...and then zap them into the future.
If the alien war to come takes place many years into the future,
then why not take those years to thoroughly train these recruits?
I guess THE TOMORROW WAR thought it would add some very much
unnecessary comic relief to have twitchy common folk thrust into a future
hellscape while packing firepower that they don't know how to use. There's
an obligatory tech nerd - played by Sam Richardson - and the wise assed
Norah (Mary Lynn Rajskub) that seem like they were teleported from a whole
other brainless Michael Bay picture and inserted in here.
Strahovski fares better here, as does a side character of Dan's
estranged father (J.K. Simmons), the latter of which goes to prove that a
little bit of Simmons in any film can go an awfully long way (granted, he
looks mostly befuddled in a "why am I in this turd" throughout).
And, to be fair, I like Pratt a lot as a performer, but here he's
just playing into familiar character beats and his wheelhouse - one that's
a bit eccentrically goofy, but tough as nails and determined to get the
job done, albeit while making many blunders along the way.
After GUARDIANS OF THE
GALAXY (which I loved) and the JURASSIC
WORLD films (which I hated) and now this it has become clear that
seeing Pratt take on large scale CG beasties doesn't have the same appeal
anymore. And you know what
would have been clever? Send
Dan's wife into the future instead and leave Dan at home as the worried
spouse (the gender reversal would have been welcome, and Gilpin proved in THE
HUNT that she can carry an action film).
At least the
aliens (I forgot to mention that they're dubbed the very heavy metal band
sounding "The Whitespikes") are created with some thanklessly
good VFX, and McKay crafts a few intense encounters between Dan et al
versus these nightmare fuel monsters that are genuinely well oiled and
realized (the movie's budget is on screen, for sure). McKay makes his live action feature film debut here after
previously making THE LEGO BATMAN
MOVIE, and he definitely has fun envisioning these ugly bug-like
space invaders (even though they seem like rejected H.R. Giger concept
designs). The aliens
themselves, however, are inconsistently presented as threats.
In the early stages they're shown as invulnerable, but later on Dan
is able to easily fend one off with his fists and a knife
builds towards a final act (all set in the snow covered Russian wild of
the present) that just comes undone really, really quickly and ends
everything with a silly thud.