Hailing from Amazon Prime Video, the highly anticipated summer blockbuster with a $200 million budget, The Tomorrow War is directed by Chris McKay (The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie), written by Zach Dean (Deadfall, 24 Hours to Live) and starring Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Passengers).
Hollywood has seen a number of sci-fi alien blockbusters that barely hits the mark i.e. Independence Day: Resurgence, Godzilla vs Kong, the Cloverfield franchise. Here, the Tomorrow War has the premises of an action film that promises to be something more but ultimately falls short.
With the pandemic causing Hollywood’s schedule of films to be moved straight to streaming release, perhaps it is a blessing in disguise for the creators behind this film as The Tomorrow War might have been 2021’s biggest flop, should it have been screened in the theatres.
Pratt plays the role of Dan Forester, an army veteran turned biology teacher, who has a passion for research and science. It is the Year 2022, Dan is spending his time with his family and friends watching the 2022 World Cup when all of a sudden, human visitors from the future (Year 2051), interrupts the football match, only to provide the present-day world a grim warning. Aliens have invaded Earth and the future is waist-deep in a human resource crisis. Civilians are required to leap ahead 30 years into the future to help fight the aliens from decimating the human race because there are simply not enough abled-bodied soldiers that can do so.
The film highlights the grim realities of what happens when faced with unexpected war. Civilians consist of men and women without military training are sent away, countries are at each other’s throats to protect political interests, protests and riots are happening because people are just losing hope or interest in fighting a war that won’t happen during their time. But of course, our handsome, stoic-faced, daddy of the year with daddy issues Dan is drafted to join the war as well. Don’t worry ladies, our screenwriters have shoehorned a way to show that Pratt is still in physical shape to play the hero…Literally.
Our Dan is terrified of facing the reality that he will be sent away and never to return, faced with the option of abandoning his duty and running away with his family, he seeks help from his estranged dad, played by the brilliant and jacked J.K. Simmons, only to make up his mind to help fight the aliens.
With all that family matter done and dusted, we dive into the problem at hand. Well sort of. We are introduced to a bunch of minor characters, where most of them would end up being cannon fodder. Among them are the nervous tech mogul Charlie (Sam Richardson) – who is there only to provide comic-relief, so much so that it becomes annoyingly irritating at times, Norah (Mary Lynn Rajskub) who is underutilized and is there just to add some wise-cracking jokes (okay, so we have two comic-relief characters) and three-time war drafted Dorian (Edwin Hodge) who should have deserved more screen time.
And with a QnA scene that answers all your time travel questions, the film has finally ticked all the boxes to finally get started. Mind you, it takes about 40 minutes of runtime before we are close to having any alien action. The gang along with hundreds of others are zapped into the future, where they are confronted by armies of alien creatures known as White Spikes. These aliens are albino-colored predators that have tentacles that strangle, slash and shoot sharp projectiles.
The film struggles in trying to identify what sort of movie it wants to be. A sci-fi alien fighting blockbuster that wedges in heavily on themes about family dynamics but neglects important war-terror elements of the story; coupled with laughable acting by the main few and an exhausting runtime seems to be its downfall.
Not to mention the pacing of the film that slogs on and on between the action. Sure, the movie doesn’t fall into the blockbuster trap of non-stop guns blazing action fest, but do we really need all that extra plot chow? Over its runtime, the writers seemed to have paced the film to have confusing rising actions and climaxes. The transition between the three acts in the film could have been done better. It felt like they were just adding in unnecessary plot points and dragging the film’s tension from one point to another until it just rather becomes exhausting. One might find themselves asking “Okay, we get it. Wait there’s more?” It is convincing that the scriptwriters could have wrapped the film at multiple points rather than stretching the story in different acts like that.
The Tomorrow War would have done better as a limited series rather than a movie. With the added runtime in the form of a series, the writers could have placed more emphasis on the issues of sudden war – the fear and tension where everyday civilians are forced to pick up a gun with barely any training (and armor) and be sent into some unknown to face horrifying aliens only to come back either dead or with post-war trauma – now that is a good premise to focus on. The movie barely breezed through these issues and seemed like it was in a hurry to continue the story, giving us a glimpse of what could have been, but ignored because this is not that kind of movie.
One example would be when Dan and the others jumped into the future but ended up wrongly teleported a thousand feet into the air, where most of the group just ended up splatting on the concrete ground. It barely seemed to faze any of them. Note that almost all of them are your everyday civilians. They should have been curled up crying and begging to go home but instead, the writers are like, “Nah, we don’t have time for that. Moving on”.
Throughout the film, Pratt has managed to carry the movie for its entirety, no thanks to his acting chops. Underutilizing his charisma such as when he was in GOTG and the Jurassic franchise, Pratt’s acting chops here is just dry of sorts. Smoldering seems to be the only thing he is good at. Apart from J.K. Simmons, we also have Yvonne Strahovski (as Colonel Muri Forester) and Betty Gilpin (as Emmy Forester) both of whom did a good job carrying the weight of the drama of the film. Minor characters such as Norah, Dorian, Lieutenant Hart and Sergeant Diaz could have been written better and given more screentime, rather than just to facilitate Pratt’s Dan and eventually ending up being shrugged off the film.
It seems that the creators tried hard in making this film memorable but ended up with a movie that was so swollen with plot points and characters that they didn’t know how else to deal with them and instead just dragged them along and ticked the boxes up to fill up the movie.
The Tomorrow War offers great visual effects, with some tense, thrilling action that follow through as a decent streaming sci-fi flick that promises more but ultimately falls flat. If you have 2.5 hours to spare, give it a go but don’t expect the unexpected.