If this were a normal year in the days before the Covid-19 pandemic, THE TOMORROW WAR (2021) would be playing in theaters everywhere and being hyped as a true summer blockbuster. It’s that kind of movie.
It features high octane action sequences pitting soldiers and everyday civilians against some very hungry and aggressive alien monsters, time travel, and it stars Chris Pratt. It has all the makings of a true summer hit. And it really is a fun movie. But you’ll need Amazon Prime Video to see it, because that’s where it’s playing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s just how things are for movies in the here and now.
In THE TOMORROW WAR, a group of soldiers from the future dramatically interrupt a major soccer match and declare to the world in a very cinematic scene that they have come from the future to recruit soldiers from present day to fight a war against vicious alien creatures that are wiping out the human race. While this is an interesting premise, I couldn’t help but wonder why with this time travelling technology they possess in the future they just couldn’t go back in time before the alien monsters arrive and come up with a way of stopping them before they invade. You know, what they do in the TERMINATOR movies. Then again, those plans always fail, so maybe that’s the reason!
The film does offer a couple of answers to this question, neither of which are overly satisfying. One, the humans in the future have failed to determine when the aliens first arrived, and two, there’s a quick scene of dialogue which explains that the time travel technology is new to the future humans and they are very limited in what they can do with it.
And also, there’s no way I see the world’s nations agreeing to send soldiers into the future. The idea that any nation would reduce its military might for any reason I find ludicrous and unrealistic.
The good news is none of this matters much. When Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) is drafted into the future and has to leave his wife and young daughter behind, he is immediately thrust into a world in which the alien monsters attack quickly and relentlessly, setting the stage for a series of very impressive action sequences. If you don’t think about things all that much, THE TOMORROW WAR is a lot of fun.
While Dan is in the future, he meets Colonel Muri Forester (Yvonne Strahovski) who happens to be his daughter all grown up. She sent for Dan from the future for a specific reason, and thus the time travel element of the plot begins in earnest.
I really enjoyed THE TOMORROW WAR. The action sequences are fun and frequent, and loud. Director Chris McKay sets up some very satisfying cinematic sequences, and while at times the action becomes intense, as the alien creatures are nasty and formidable, this one never becomes scary or horrific. The emphasis is on action. So, while I was reminded of classic movies like ALIENS (1986) and CLOVERFIELD (2008) when the alien creatures wreaked havoc, the film never ventures down the horror road, which for me, was a detriment.
That being said, the film doesn’t forget its roots and its connections to previous science fiction horror movies. There are nods to both ALIEN (1979) and THE THING (1982), which I appreciated.
THE TOMORROW WAR is also a bit long, clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes, and I can’t say that the whole thing was one nonstop thrill ride, although the pace is nonstop. It’s one of those movies that keeps pushing its way forward without taking a breath or giving the audience a chance to get to know the characters. I don’t usually like movies that are paced this way, but THE TOMORROW WAR supersedes this problem with its impressive action scenes, having Chris Pratt in the lead role, and finally deciding to take that much needed breath in the film’s final reel, in which the time travel elements come into full play and some of the characterizations finally come into the forefront.
And so while I knocked some of the time travel elements with this one, and the plot point about nations sending soldiers into the future, all in all I enjoyed the screenplay by Zach Dean. I definitely enjoyed the story, as well as the unusual plot construct of having things slow down a bit towards the end, setting up a very satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed the theme which ran through this one of not having second chances, and when some of the characters are finally able to get those second chances at film’s end, it makes for some rewarding moments.
The dialogue runs hot and cold. Sometimes the banter is tired and cliche, and other times there are some really memorable lines. One of my favorites is right near the end when James Forester (J.K. Simmons) asks his son Dan if he just told the creature to die, and when Dan says yes, James quips, “It worked. Why didn’t you tell it sooner?” In another scene, one of the characters is being chased down a staircase by a rampaging alien, and the character is repeatedly crying out, “Sh*t! Sh*t! Sh*t” all the way down. It had me laughing out loud.
Chris Pratt channels his amiable hero personality which he has used so successfully in both the Marvel GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and AVENGERS movies, and the recent JURASSIC PARK films, to once again anchor an action packed summer blockbuster movie. I like Pratt a lot, and he doesn’t disappoint.
On the other hand, Yvonne Strahovski doesn’t fare as well as Forester’s adult daughter Muri. While she does get ample screen time, her scenes and dialogue are mostly reduced to her character reacting to her dad. The story really is about Pratt’s Dan Forester. He’s the central figure, and the film doesn’t seem to want to allow other characters to cross into that territory. That’s probably the biggest problem I had with THE TOMORROW WAR. It’s not very “today” in utilizing female characters. Yvonne Strahovski’s Muri should have played a much more prominent role and not just played second fiddle to Chris Pratt.
Even worse, Betty Gilpin plays Dan’s wife Emmy and she gets very little screen time, which for me, was a huge missed opportunity. You have Betty Gilpin in your cast and she’s reduced to playing a supportive wife? She should have been in the forefront of the future action sequences kicking alien butt alongside Chris Pratt. For me, this was the biggest disappointment about THE TOMORROW WAR.
Veteran actor J.K. Simmons is excellent as Dan’s estranged dad James, and of all the characters in the movie, he probably enjoys the most satisfying story arc. And both Sam Richardson and Edwin Hodge add fine support in smaller roles.
While it’s not perfect, THE TOMORROW WAR doesn’t have to be. Its riveting action sequences and intriguing time travel story are enough to make this one an enjoyable summer popcorn movie.
So, don’t wait for tomorrow to see THE TOMORROW WAR.
See it today.