Hold On! Gimme A Sec

The Tomorrow War Review

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NOTE: Some SPOILERS for the first act are included mostly relating to character relationships.

PLOT: Soldiers from 30 years in the future arrive to bring back present-day humans to fight a war between humanity and an alien race. 

REVIEW: The new sci-fi-action flick THE TOMORROW WAR feels like the kind of summer blockbuster Hollywood doesn’t go in for anymore, fearing the lack of superheroes and established IP would drive audiences away. An original concept that I can assume had an Avengers-level budget, the thrills and hallmarks of this throwback are refreshingly old-school, defined by soldiers firing infinite bullets at alien threats before spouting emotionally charged one-liners and ultimately diving from a massive explosion at the last second. With movies like that you aren’t always lucky enough to get even a solid story to match, but thanks to a story that does actually manage to provide at least a little depth between the chaos you may find yourself, like me, reaching the end of The Tomorrow War surprised by how good of a time you had.

Written by Zach Dean and directed by Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie), the movie centers on former solider-turned biology teacher Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), who despite having a solid job, a loving family, and wife played by Betty Gilpin, feels like he’s destined for more in life. That sort of pre-mid-life crisis is upended when soldiers from the future arrive via a wormhole – not in a way dissimilar to The Terminator if they got to keep all their clothes – and inform present-day folks that humanity is losing a war to a race of aliens in the year 2051. They then need as many able-bodied citizens as possible to come to the future and fight, enlisting anyone they can regardless of combat experience and sending them into the future, and while they only have to serve seven days before being transported back to the present, most who go — usually aged between 30-60 — end up becoming alien food.

While other sci-fi-action movies with time travel tend to get wrapped up in the mechanics and physics of it all, the filmmakers don’t really spend a lot of time caring about what questions you may have about people bouncing back and forth between timelines – and really, it doesn’t matter. The bulk of the concept starts and stops with people going to the future, fighting aliens, and maybe surviving long enough to come back. Because technological innovation likely stopped as soon as the fighting started – with the exception of, ya know, time travel – there’s not much exposition and logical explaining needed to sell everything, so when Dan and a crew of mostly inexperienced soldiers get rocketing into the future, it’s easy to just buy into everything and embrace the human v. alien carnage.

In that regard, your enjoyment will stem from just how much you enjoy 90s-era, guns-blasting action. A short amount of suspense around what the aliens look like and what they’re capable of leads to constant run-and-gun spectacle, and while the big budget could’ve easily made everything look over-produced and riddled with half-baked visuals, the action is grounded enough to be immersive and properly explosive. Loud and kinetic as impressively gnarly beasties chase down our heroes, a welcome amount of humor (mostly thanks to the always welcome Sam Richardson) also ensure nothing ever feels too taken seriously when it gets going, with characters diving from an explosion or two proving some things never go out of style.

When things aren’t going boom there needs to be a story, and while the sheer hopelessness humanity seems to have accepted means there’s not much of a goal the main characters are working towards beyond surviving their next encounter, writer Zach Dean found room to make the story work for Pratt’s Forester. Eventually teaming up with an older version of his daughter (Yvonne Strahovski), Forester learns about events that tore his family apart in this timeline – and coming from his own broken home and being estranged from his father (J.K. Simmons) – there’s enough material there to give Forester a chance to reconnect with his daughter, using a glimpse at this future to hopefully improve his present. It’s not the most emotionally complex material out there, nor does it give Pratt a ton of room as an actor to branch out from his everyman-action hero persona, but it gives the movie heart where there could simply be bullets and alien blood. This therapy session built within an action movie may not always be enough to satisfy some viewers between the action and across the 138-minute runtime, but by the end, the greater emotional arc reached a conclusion that was earned and a worthwhile throughline connecting the movie between hops around the globe and through time. 

Together, it all works pretty well, and a lot of that is thanks to McKay behind the camera. While his last movie was the animated marvel The Lego Batman Movie, there are enough similarities between the two to show that McKay has a knack for engrossing action, injecting comedy into that action, and letting the sweetness of the story (in both movie’s cases, involving troubled father figures) shine through it all. He also knows how to get the most out of supporting performances, so while Pratt continues to prove himself a reliable leading man, actors like Gilpin, Simmons, and Richardson have their little moments to leave their mark or steal the show.

Paramount sold The Tomorrow War to Amazon for the astounding sum of $200 million, which means audiences will have to settle for watching at home as I did – which is a shame because it’s the kind of movie that’s made to be seen on the big screen. Not being to hear the audience’s reaction to Richardson getting the best kill of the movie is a genuine bummer, and the fact big emotions and big action sequences define the tone, it feels like something will be lost in the experience of only ever getting to watch it from your couch. And yet, I still ended up liking The Tomorrow War more than I expected to, and while the story and emotional beats aren’t always strong enough to match the action, there’s enough here to make the movie feel like a strong blend of action movies both past and present.

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