Film Review – The Tomorrow War
The Tomorrow War
The Tomorrow War (2021) is a perfectly acceptable, albeit forgettable, sci-fi actioner. It doesn’t bring anything new to the genre. It plays with well-worn elements that many of us have become familiar with but does so in an entertaining way. This is one of those instances where a movie exists right down the middle between good and bad. Some may like it for doing exactly as it advertises, other may not because of how derivative it is, and others may have no feeling about it at all. Admittedly, these are the hardest reviews to write because the movie elicits such a lack of an emotional reaction. It’s cotton candy – it provides temporary pleasure and then dissolves into nothingness.
Does every sci-fi action film have to be centered around a global apocalypse? It’s kind of a pessimistic view to have, isn’t it? At this point, filmmakers seem to believe that we are headed towards nothing but a barren dystopia. That may be true, but would it hurt to have a smidge of optimism for what’s to come? Is it too much to ask that society somehow works out its problems and things turn out ok? It’s interesting to think that depicting a future where technology helps to save humanity and make the world a better place would be considered risky.
Thirty years into the future, Earth is invaded by an alien race called the “Whitespikes.” These are violent, chaotic creatures whose only motivation is to destroy all life around them. Their exoskeleton body make them difficult to shoot down, and their ability to communicate with each other gives them an added advantage. We learn that the Whitespikes quickly overwhelm the planet. To balance the scales, a group of soldiers get sent back in time to the present, where they warn global leaders and enlist as many people as they can to go to the future to help fight.
Among those recruited is Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), a veteran of the Iraq War turned high school science teacher. Dan longs to make something of life, both for himself and for his wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). His opportunity comes when he is drafted to lead a ragtag group of recruits, including the experienced Dorian (Edwin Hodge) and newbie Charlie (Sam Richardson). Once they “jump” thirty years forward, Dan joins forces with the older version of his daughter (Yvonne Strahovski), who is now a science whiz and a commanding officer of the resistance.
Chris McKay’s direction and Zach Dean’s screenplay structure the action in an episodic format. From Miami to the Dominican Republic, to the snow covered reaches of Northern Russia, the narrative skips around the globe, with Dan and his team encountering the Whitespikes, firing their weapons to no avail, and trying to escape by the skin of their teeth. There’s a repetitive nature to the set pieces, where each action beat is large and epic, and between each high point are moments of quiet reflection or character building. The abundant CGI is not a distraction. The movement of the Whitespikes is so jerky and ferocious that we don’t get a second to sit back and really marvel at their design. They’re like a velociraptor with tentacles that shoot projectile spikes. They’re a unique creation, I just wish we had more of a chance to see what they look like.
Chris Pratt has always had a likable, Average Joe persona on screen. It helped with his character in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, and it works to his advantage again here. There is a running theme of parentage throughout the story. The only connection Dan has with his father (a ripped J.K. Simmons) is a yearly Christmas card that Dan promptly tosses in the trash. When Dan connects with the older version of Muri, he learns of her feelings of loss and abandonment when he left his family. There is a cyclical dynamic between the three, with Dan being the anchor. Luckily, the writing doesn’t allow this to wallow in cheap sentimentality, given that there are alien monsters running amok.
At a certain point, we arrive at what appears to be the film’s natural conclusion. All the loose ends have been wrapped up and all the questions seem to be answered. Everything is tied up in a nice bow and we wait for the credits to roll. That is, until the narrative tosses us for a loop and keeps going. For an additional forty minutes, we are subjected to extracurricular activities in which our heroes trudge along. They get into predicaments that – in regard to storytelling – are unnecessary. A classically formatted plot exists in three parts (or “acts”). This movie decided to shoehorn a fourth act that works separately from everything else in tone and style. It’s as though this final portion came from an entirely different movie. Obviously, I don’t want to give the big secrets away here, but the switch is so blatant and jarring that you’ll know when you’ve reached it.
This is the kind of junk food cinema that goes down smoothly. The Tomorrow War doesn’t change the game or raise the standard for the sci-fi genre, but it does fill up time with some nice action, decent character work, and a committed performance from a bonafide movie star. You can’t ask for much more than that.