'The Tomorrow War,' which was co-financed by Paramount Pictures, was originally set to open in theatres last Christmas, but the pandemic forced the studio to push the film to July 2021. By January, with the theatrical landscape still clouded in doubt, Amazon snapped up the exclusive global rights to the film for a rumoured $US200 million. But watching the film on Prime Video makes me wonder if COVID-19 hesitancy was all there was to it. Did someone realise that 'The Tomorrow War' was too wonky to make it in the theatrical market and decide to bury it in the streaming content graveyard?
In December 2022, the world flipped on it's axis when an envoy of time travellers from the year 2051 materialises in the middle of a soccer field during the FIFA World Cup final in Qatar. They are here to deliver an urgent message: 30 years into the future, mankind is on the verge of extinction after losing a global war against the White Spikes, a deadly alien species. Soldiers and civilians from the present need to be transported to the future to join the fight, and a worldwide draft is introduced.
Among those recruited is high school teacher and family man Dan Forester (Chris Pratt, 'Guardians of the Galaxy', who also executive produces). Dan is an impossibly talented Doc Savage-type - he's a genius scientist, a former Green Beret commando and gets called "handsome" in the first five minutes (Pratt is credited as an executive producer). The legendary J.K. Simmons ('Terminator Genisys') appears as his dad, an anti-government kook, but sadly his primary purpose is to provide exposition and look sinewy.
Forester's team is deployed into the future and is immediately met with disaster, plummeting from a portal hundreds of feet in the air and splashing down in a swimming pool. What follows could kindly be described as a tribute to many sci-fi films of the past - 'The Tomorrow War' is a mishmash of film tropes, with story elements, set pieces and production design from Doug Liman's 'Edge of Tomorrow', Paul Verhoeven's 'Starship Troopers', John Carpenter's 'The Thing' and most prominently James Cameron's 'Aliens' and 'The Terminator'. Every element of this film is borrowed from a superior source.
'The Tomorrow War' also feels like a cinematic cut scene from video game shooter like 'Gears of War', revolving around a series of travel and battle quests - get this item to this location, defeat this boss alien, get this piece of information, use it to activate the next step. The start of the movie, which sets up the story, is like listening to someone explain the in-game tutorial. There is even a generic score from Lorne Balfe, who provided music for the 'Call of Duty' franchise.
First-time feature director Chris McKay (he previously worked with Pratt on the animated 'The LEGO Movie' and 'The Lego Batman Movie') aims for a glossy, Zack Snyder-esque action movie feel, and once the bullets start flying, he largely gets there. But it doesn't have the immersive intensity of the aforementioned 'Edge of Tomorrow', or the emotional connections 'Aliens' makes with its space grunts. What it does have is Pratt making a Rambo face while firing his machine gun, yelling "noooo...!" and leaping away from explosions in slow-motion.
What it does have is Pratt making a Rambo face while firing his machine gun, yelling "noooo...!" and leaping away from explosions in slow-motion.
The script by Zach Dean (who penned the dreadful 'Deadfall' and '24 Hours to Live') has predictable twists, some which I'm sure would actually cause anomalies in the time stream. The film touches on intriguing ideas, such as a possible environmental cause behind the alien invasion, and the rising anti-war sentiments as a result of the draft. But the focus always swings back to monotonous sequences of Pratt gunning down waves of identical enemies. Father/daughter parental issues are chucked into the mix, although thankfully, it's not on the ridiculous scale as Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar'. Ultimately, nothing can change the fact that the whole final act feels rushed and tacked on, or that this film is far too long at, running at nearly two and a half hours.
If you're seeking satisfying character development to accompany your exploding alien limbs, look elsewhere, although Sam Richardson ('Good Boys', 'Promising Young Woman') is amusing as Charlie, the comedy relief sidekick. One of the few elements I enjoyed was the regular dudes - people wearing business suits and chef's hats - who are conscripted into the war. Sure, it's silly, but it reminded me of 'Gantz', an anime series that is screaming out for a few more live-action adaptations.
Yvonne Strahovski ('Angel of Mine', 'The Predator') also makes an impression as the leader of the future resistance. She's given more to do than Betty Gilpin ('The Hunt', Netflix's 'GLOW'), who languishes in a feather-light "concerned housewife" part, while Pratt dials down his signature amiable rogue persona, but has zero gravitas. 'The Tomorrow War' would have benefitted greatly if Gilpin and Pratt had switched roles.
Some people may be able to push past the overwhelming sense of blockbuster déjà vu and enjoy 'The Tomorrow War' as a serviceable slab of time travelling entertainment. Others will simply find it loud and difficult to endure, capturing the experience of ground-level alien warfare with painful plausibility.