‘The Tomorrow War’ review: Bland sci-fi retreads, repeats yesterday’s tired tropes
There’s no denying the increase in the number of movies that look and feel like video games. Hollywood sees the massive popularity of video games in their primary demographic (young men) and is hoping to appeal to them with movies like Extraction, Nobody, The Old Guard and The Army of the Dead, just to name a few–movies that lean heavily on shooting, fighting, a relentless enemy and bottomless CGI and stunts budgets, and not so much on story or character development. The latest entry into this video game-inspired cinematic shooting gallery, Amazon’s The Tomorrow War, however, is so ridiculous, it not only makes Army of the Dead look like an Oscar-winner, but makes video game storylines seem like Shakespeare.
Starring Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski and J.K. Simmons, The Tomorrow War lays out an ultra-complicated plot about how aliens in the future have landed on Earth and are killing everyone, so people now have to travel to the future to fight them, in order for there to be any hope of humanity’s survival–a not-very-well disguised metaphor for climate change. Governments are forced to impose a draft to send all eligible humans to the future to fight, but the aliens are winning the war in the future, and all hope seems to be lost. Up steps military veteran-turned high school teacher Dan Forester (Pratt), who gets drafted and is stuck with a ragtag group of ordinary joes who are neither prepared nor trained to make the jump to their uncertain fate. Dan instantly bonds with nervous nellie Charlie (Sam Richardson) and cynical, battle-tested Dorian (Edwin Hodge), and they are able to hold their own against the alien enemy, thanks to Dan’s bravery and military skills. Romeo Command, played by Strahovski, the commander in the future, takes notice of Dan’s band of fighters and tasks them with a dangerous mission that, if it works, just might kill the aliens and save all life as we know it. There’s much more, but it would spoil all the non-fun.
Normally, when plots are as ridiculous as this one is, it’s sometimes easier and, frankly, more enjoyable to not fight it and just go with it. The problem with The Tomorrow War is it continues to pile on its own lunacy, as screenwriter Zach Dean fully commits to an entirely too complex and preposterous plot that gets more and more inane the more it goes on. The audience is never given a chance to just enjoy the action sequences, the enormously expensive CGI and the video-game vibe because it is too busy trying to comprehend some crazy plot points and unravel tangled threads of timelines, characters and inter-relatedness that bogs down every minute of this film, which no doubt is intended to be a good time. But the overly complicated screenplay kills all the joy that this film should have, and once it gets to a point of utter ridiculousness, it’s just too easy to check out, with nothing else to keep you invested.
There are good actors in this film, including an Oscar-winner in J.K. Simmons, who plays Dan’s militia-minded estranged father, but none of them can overcome the charmless and convoluted script, which comes nowhere close to the many films that obviously inspired it, such as Terminator 2, Alien and Armageddon. Credit goes to Richardson, who does his best to inject some comic relief into the proceedings, but the lack of any imagination makes every line fall flat. Strahovski makes the most of her moments on screen, but she is forced to share serious, emotional scenes with Pratt, who, sadly, just cannot keep up. Pratt’s boyish, snarky charm can only go so far, as his limitations as an actor are glaringly evident in any scene requiring a meaningful exchange of dialogue. Pratt is not known for his gravitas as an actor, and The Tomorrow War does call for a few moments where he is way out of his depth, but, thankfully, Strahovski and Simmons make up for some of the awkwardness.
But, really, The Tomorrow War is not about acting. Director Chris McKay is all in with the aliens, the action, the CGI and shooting—lots of shooting. One would think that, thirty years into the future, there may be more advanced weaponry to kill aliens from outer space than a regular old machine gun, but apparently not. A significant amount of time in this film is spent with people running around, shooting at aliens who are chasing them, flying above them, coming at them or landing on them. Again, a video gamers delight. The aliens are cool, but even they lack much imagination, as anyone who has seen A Quiet Place or Jurassic Park could attest.
In the end, no single thing kills this movie, but an entire collection of weaknesses, from Chris Pratt’s over-earnestness to the ridiculous premise to the charmless dialogue and unimaginative video game vibe, are what, cumulatively, make The Tomorrow War a tedious experience, far from the fun and escapist entertainment it might have set out to be.
Amazon Studios will exclusively release The Tomorrow War globally on Prime Video July, 2021.
Photo: Frank Masi