THE STORY – A man is drafted to fight in a future war where the fate of humanity relies on his ability to confront his past.
THE CAST – Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J. K. Simmons, Betty Gilpin, Sam Richardson, Edwin Hodge, Jasmine Mathews, Ryan Kiera Armstrong & Keith Powers
THE TEAM – Chris McKay (Director) & Zach Dean (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 138 Minutes
By Daniel Howat
“The Tomorrow War” has two major attributes going for it by releasing in July 2021. First, in a year of postponed releases, many are clamoring for big-budget blockbusters to blow us away, this writer included. Second, this big-budget blockbuster is an original screenplay, meaning it is not based on pre-existing material, which is pretty rare to come by these days. While the film mostly succeeds in delivering the explosions and VFX-driven action that we’ve lacked over the last year, this original premise borrows too heavily from other, better films to truly make a substantial impact.
In the present, time travelers arrive and announce that the future of the world is at stake. They’re losing a war against aliens, and they need more manpower to defeat them. After most of the world’s military forces are depleted in the effort, they institute a worldwide draft. Who needs a military when you have Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), the high school science teacher along with other ordinary citizens aiding in the fight? It’s an intriguing premise, though it requires exposition to be piled on continuously for most of the film. It’s a lot of movie and that doesn’t even include the characters Dan meets along the way (Sam Richardson & Edwin Hodge), his relationships with his daughter (Yvonne Strahovski) and father (J. K. Simmons). It feels like most of the movie is spent explaining the plot than actually seeing it happen.
While the film is weighed down by exposition, there are several impressive action sequences. After winning critical acclaim for the animated hit “The LEGO Batman Movie,” director, Chris McKay makes the jump to live-action. Despite the PG-13 rating, this film can be pretty brutal at times as human bodies are ripped in half, smashed to pieces, and blown up. While it is unexpected for the rating, it drastically helps to elevate the film by providing some seriously high stakes. Too often these days, films of this nature can sugarcoat the action or tone it down for a younger audience. That’s certainly not the case here, which makes for more surprising and compelling war action sequences.
The creatures in “The Tomorrow War” are its single best attribute. However, the audience doesn’t get to see them for quite some time. It’s clear that McKay was withholding them to build anticipation, but it was a little annoying and confusing to not see the creatures within the context of this story until much later. Still, once they’re revealed in a thrilling battle within a stairwell, you can honestly say the wait was worth it. By far, the most impressive thing about “The Tomorrow War” is the creature design. This alien species, referred to as “white spikes,” are absolutely horrifying. With tentacles that shoot out spikes, extraordinarily long teeth, and so many arms it’s hard to count, these hordes of aliens, for the most part, don’t look like anything we’ve ever seen before. It’s rare to see a truly unique alien design these days, but creature designer Ken Barthelmey’s work here is excellent and worthy of praise.
While the action is enough to keep us engaged throughout the 138-minute runtime, the plot is relatively weak. It’s too reminiscent of films such as “The Terminator” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” among many others. There is an abundance of time spent on character development for Dan, especially as it relates to his relationship with his daughter, yet none of it really sticks emotionally. Pratt and Strahovski, along with the rest of the cast, do a fine job with what they’re given, but there isn’t much to elevate the film to another level. There are numerous extended scenes with plenty of tears shed as they discuss their future and past. Still, it doesn’t affect the plot in any meaningful way outside of attempting to create an emotional bond between the characters and the audience, which will hopefully justify the runtime. Instead, their relationship slows the story down in aggravating ways in the second and especially third act, which feels tacked on after the film reaches a natural conclusion thirty minutes prior.
“The Tomorrow War” is a serviceable action film that could certainly scratch the itch many have right now for a giant summer blockbuster, but the weak script keeps the movie firmly in mediocre territory. I’d be curious to see what an R-rated, smaller-scale version of this premise might’ve looked like because there are moments of extraordinary potential throughout, especially when it comes to the action scenes. With a greater focus on the time-traveling mission to save the world and less on an inconsequential father-daughter relationship, this could’ve been more streamlined, resulting in a tighter and better film. Outside of the phenomenal creature design, it’ll be tough to remember much about this movie by tomorrow.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The film’s intriguing premise is bolstered by excellent creature design and some gruesome action, which is often more brutal than expected.
THE BAD – The plot draws on so many other films that it often feels like a cheap knockoff of better movies. It runs far too long.
THE OSCARS – None