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THE TOMORROW WAR

★★

A FUTURISTIC ACTION FLICK BURIED UNDER OLD TROPES

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By Jake Watt
5th July 2021

'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 raises a more likely scenario than COVID-19 hesitancy: Paramount honchos may have decided 'The Tomorrow War' wasn't good enough to make it in the theatrical market and dumped it in the streaming content graveyard.

In December 2022, the world is stunned 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 to deliver an urgent message. 30 years into the future, mankind is losing a global war against the White Spikes, a deadly alien species. Humans are on the verge of extinction. The only hope for survival is for soldiers and civilians from the present to be transported to the future and join the fight. 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 a genius scientist, a former Green Beret commando and gets called "handsome" in the first five minutes. Did I mention that Pratt executive produced this? The legendary J.K. Simmons ('Terminator Genisys') appears as James Forester, Pratt's father and an anti-government extremist, but sadly his primary purpose is to provide exposition and look sinewy.

'THE TOMORROW WAR' FINAL TRAILER

Forester's team is deployed into the future and is immediately met with disaster, plummeting to earth 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 as familiar story elements, set pieces and production design begin cropping up on a regular basis. 'The Tomorrow War' is a mishmash of film tropes, with bits and pieces 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'. The unkind way to describe it is that every element of this film is borrowed from a superior source.

'The Tomorrow War' also feels like a lost segment from video games 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 latter half of the movie, when the action clicks and the stakes are raised, feels like watching someone play a shooter. Watching the former half of the movie, which sets up the story, is like listening to someone explain the themes of the very same game. It even sounds video game-y, thanks to a generic score from Lorne Balfe, who provided music for the 'Call of Duty' franchise. How appetising all of that sounds is a quick-and-easy test of your potential interest in actually watching 'The Tomorrow War' yourself.

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, though without the immersive intensity of the aforementioned 'Edge of Tomorrow', or the emotional connections 'Aliens' makes with its doomed combatants. However, there are plenty of scenes of Pratt making a Rambo face while firing his machine gun, yelling "noooo...!" and leaping away from explosions in slo-mo, if clichés are your thing.

There are plenty of scenes of Pratt making a Rambo face while firing his machine gun, yelling "noooo...!" and leaping away from explosions in slo-mo, if clichés are your thing.

The script by Zach Dean (who penned the dreadful 'Deadfall' and '24 Hours to Live') contains some predictable twists, one of which I'm sure would actually cause a paradox in and of itself. The film touches on intriguing stories, such as a possible environmental cause behind the alien invasion, and the rising anti-war sentiments as a result of the draft. But these always go away in favour of monotonous sequences of Pratt gunning down waves of identical enemies. Father/daughter parental issues are thrown into the mix, although thankfully, it's not on the same, ridiculous, off-the-chart 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 folks - people wearing business suits and chef's hats - who are conscripted into the war. Sure, it's ridiculous, 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, relentless and difficult to endure, capturing the experience of ground-level alien warfare with woeful verisimilitude.

FAST FACTS
RELEASE DATE: TBA
RUN TIME: 2h 18m
CAST: Chris Pratt
J.k. Simmons
Yvonne Strahovski
Betty Gilpin
Sam Richardson
Edwin Hodge
Jasmine Mathews
Seychelle Gabriel
Alan Trong
Chibuikem Uche
DIRECTOR: Chris McKay
WRITER: Zach Dean
PRODUCERS: Rob Cowan
Brian Oliver
Chris Pratt
David S. Goyer
Dana Goldberg
Jules Daly
Don Granger
David Ellison
Adam Kolbrenner
SCORE: Lorne Balfe
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