The Tomorrow War by Chris McKay
If you ever find yourself watching Amazon’s The Tomorrow War, don’t be surprised if the following thought pops into your head: “I should probably be watching Aliens or Independence Day instead of this.” I strongly suggest that you heed that internal voice, especially if you hear it early on in the film. Not only will it save you from wasting your time but I guarantee that you’ll end up having a more enjoyable cinematic experience.
It’s not that The Tomorrow War is a terrible movie per se, or that it has terrible ideas. Indeed, it starts off promisingly enough: Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) is an Iraqi war vet who now makes ends meet as a high school biology teacher. When he’s passed over for his dream job at a research center, he resigns himself to a humdrum life, even with a loving family. That all changes, however, when soldiers arrive from the future and tell of a war with aliens that has all but decimated humanity. In response, Forester and thousands of others are drafted to fight in this future war, which appears to be increasingly hopeless.
So far, so good. But The Tomorrow War’s problem is that it tries to be several different types of movie — e.g., big budget sci-fi action thriller, heart-tugging family drama, time travel adventure — and ends up being none of them. It has no real sense of identity and therefore, ends up being a bland, watered down version of whatever it’s trying to do in a particular scene.
Despite all of its talk about how humanity is on the brink of extinction, The Tomorrow War never feels high stakes. You never believe in the characters’ sense of despair or worry despite how much the movie telegraphs every single beat. The movie’s big reveal (if you want to call it that) — upon arriving in the future, Forester encounters his daughter Muri, who is now a scientist herself and leading the attempt to create an alien-killing toxin — is supposed to be a big emotional moment, but the movie doesn’t generate anything with it.
Even the fact that in this future, Forester now gets to fulfill his dream of doing important research — and with his daughter no less — seems like it should be a bigger character moment for our hero. However, it falls flat without any comment, like it’s just another day in the office.
As The Tomorrow War enters its final act, it grows increasingly preposterous, but in a dour and boring way that makes disbelief all but impossible to suspend. Forester must reunite with his estranged father, a troubled Vietnam vet who abandoned their family, in order to fly a covert mission into Russia to track down the aliens’ spaceship via snowmobile and deliver the toxin, which his daughter successfully created in the future but sent back to the past in order to be manufactured.
Does any of that sentence make sense, even for a wannabe Hollywood summer blockbuster? Does it seem like I just spoiled The Tomorrow War for you? I do my best to warn about spoilers, but in this case, I don’t particularly care. Nor, I suspect, will you if you actually watch the movie and make it to the final, icy duel between Forester and his father, and the alien queen — which goes on so long that it becomes a CGI mess. (And don’t get me started on the movie’s ham-fisted attempts to praise the merits of science or its equally ham-fisted digs at opportunistic politicians, both of which feel like pandering to the Left and the Right, respectively.)
Pratt is clearly banking on his action star bonafides following the Marvel and Jurassic World movies. However, I found him much more interesting as the disappointed biology teacher trying to make something of his life. (There are glimmers of excitement when he’s forced to resort to his Green Beret skills in the future, but such moments are in short supply.) Yvonne Strahovski does her best as the adult Muri, but she falls into cliché as the driven scientist who is also the wounded little girl deep down inside. Sam Richardson is supposed to bring the comedy as an awkward scientist with whom Forester bonds, but his bumbling cowardice is neither humorous nor sympathetic.
The always reliable J. K. Simmons brings the necessary gristle as Forester’s estranged father, but his grit and paranoia seem like they belong in another movie. The Tomorrow War’s most interesting character is Edwin Hodge’s Dorian, a nihilistic soldier who keeps returning to the future to fight in a hopeless war against aliens because that’s better than dying slowly from his cancer. I’d honestly rather watch a movie about him and his slow, dawning realization that maybe some things are worth living for, after all.
The most frustrating thing about The Tomorrow War is the sense of potential squandered, and all because it can’t decide what it should be. I mentioned Aliens and Independence Day earlier in my review. Those movies are classics because they knew exactly what they are: a taut sci-fi action/thriller in the former’s case, and in the latter’s, an over-the-top alien invasion popcorn flick that places spectacle and entertainment over realism every single time.
The Tomorrow War clearly wants to be of a similar caliber, but it’s ultimately a forgettable film that, rather than entertain you, just reminds you that you could be watching a better movie instead.