A film review by Craig J. Koban July 8, 2021


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 Muri

Directed 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.  

Originally set 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 distracting.   

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.  Fine.  I 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 anymoreAnd 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 (yup...sure...un-huh).  Everything 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.   

What a wasted opportunity of a film.  When all is said and done, I was frankly shocked by how THE TOMORROW WAR was so egregiously lacking in genuine scares and tension.  It's rarely exciting, rarely scary, and rarely intelligent with its core ideas.  The film is a bloated summer tentpole movie extravaganza on pure insipid autopilot, containing good actors and good productions values, but sorely lacking in worthwhile innovation.  In the end, THE TOMORROW WAR is a cliché generating factory made up of overused and tired troupes that we've seen done to death so many times before in vastly better genre efforts before it, and at a ridiculously long winded near two and a half hours you almost wish you could be whisked into the future mid-screening to avoid having to sit through the film.  If you want to watch an infinitely superior and smarter sci-fi thriller with aliens and time travel elements then seek out and/or re-watch dreadfully underrated THE EDGE OF TOMORROW and just skip THE TOMORROW WAR altogether.  Your brain will thank you for that vast trade-up. 

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