Synopsis: An ordinary family man is recruited by time travelers from 30 years in the future to fight in a deadly war against aliens.
Stars: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons, Betty Gilpin, Sam Richardson, Theo Von, Jasmine Mathews, Mary Lynn Rajskub
Director: Chris McKay
Running Length: 140 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: It’s still been sort of a weird summer, hasn’t it? While things felt like they were heading back on track with theaters re-opening, the business hasn’t exactly been booming. Sure, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and F9: The Fast Saga unsurprisingly attracted devoted fans into seats based on their name recognition alone, the disappointing showing of the much anticipated musical In the Heights knocked the wind out of many sails just as things were getting going. Approaching the traditionally jam-packed July 4th weekend, there’s not a smorgasbord to choose from in cinemas and definitely no major blockbuster release that historically debuted just ahead of the holiday weekend.
Instead, that action mega-ton popcorn film is making its premiere on Amazon Prime and while The Tomorrow War gets the job done as a frenzied, effects-heavy epic that just keeps going and going, it’s missing a few key elements that were magic ingredients to previous success in years past. We’ll get into what those components are in a bit, but I want to say from the start that you absolutely should watch The Tomorrow War and not be deterred by a trailer and synopsis that suggests a bland sameness or Pratt’s waning promise as a capable lead in motion pictures. Stumbling terribly at first, the film positively jolts to life about forty minutes in and hooked me for the remainder.
Several years in the future, Dan Forester (Pratt, Jurassic World) is a ordinary guy with a wife and daughter trying to get a better job after his military service. Then, during a holiday party at their house when everyone is watching a soccer game on TV (at Christmas? I know…), the world changes when out of a center-field nebula armed visitors from the future appear and announce the need for volunteers to come and fight a war going on decades from now. Over the next year, armies across the globe go forth and are decimated by alien creatures so terrifying the future visitors dare not share pictures for fear that they will have trouble recruiting present day citizens from traveling through time to battle them. Eventually Dan is called up through a national draft and finds himself facing down these beasts along with others that have had no training in combat or evasive measures.
These first forty or so minutes of The Tomorrow War that deals with all the exposition needed to inform the audience of a lot of plot details is pretty bad. It’s awkward and gangly, sort of like Pratt’s weirdly uncomfortable look stuffed into a shirt/sweater combo during the holiday party. The writing is poor, the acting is not much better, and all signs were pointing to 140 minutes of iffy effects to go along with the bad plot mechanics. Then, something sort of amazing happens. Director Chris McKay (The LEGO Movie) and writer Zach Dean put Dan and his untrained bunch face to face with an enemy that might just be one of the most terrifying creations seen in these alien beasts on Earth films yet. I’m not kidding when I say that when we get our first look at the White Spikes I sat up rigid in my seat, jaw agape, and said “Oh no, I do not appreciate that.” Much of this has to go to the effects folks who created this monster, seamlessly blending it (for the most part) with the live-action actors…but it’s a formidable foe that is nightmarishly ruthless. That McKay keeps it hidden for an extended period of time also adds to its overall scariness when we finally do see it.
In time-travel movies, the filmmakers can play fast and loose with their rules, and they do so here as well, to some extent. I won’t go too far into who Yvonne Strahovski (All I See Is You) is playing or how she figures into Forester’s life but the two join forces in the future which winds up having a major impact on the past. Just when you think the movie is reaching its climax, you look at your watch and realize it’s only halfway done. Then the next time you think it’s over, your watch tells you there’s a half hour left. This happens two or three more times before the film actually wraps up and the multiple endings give The Tomorrow War an overall breathless pace but also contributes to a weariness after a time. That extra time gives way for some slow dips in the action and dramatic scenes between Dan and his estranged father (J.K. Simmons, Zack Snyder’s Justice League) as well as a few fun sequences of Indiana Jones-style adventure. It’s a big package to digest and while it wouldn’t have worked on the big screen because you’d have to take it a bit more seriously, on the small screen some of these quirkier asides tend to play easier.
What is harder to take is Pratt’s clunker performance, a disappointing sign the actor isn’t delivering on some early promise that he had leading man potential. An executive producer of the film, Pratt should have been even more on the ball as someone with a grander stake in the movie’s prospects but alas, he’s just missing that magical “it” factor that could have given all of his scenes more weight. His jokes don’t land, his dramatic thrust isn’t felt, it’s just a vacant, mannequin type of performance that goes through the motions but doesn’t bring anything new. That’s especially apparent as the film draws to a conclusion and becomes a one-man Pratt showcase even though he’s sharing the screen with likable actors like Sam Richardson (Werewolves Within) who outcharms him without even trying.
This is a big, big, big movie and not one you should be watching on a tiny computer screen or your phone. You will want to check this one out and make The Tomorrow War an event if you can, trying your best to ignore it’s bad opening and enjoy when it shows what our heroes are up against.