CAST: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons, Betty Gilpin, Sam Richardson, Edwin Hodge, Jasmine Mathews, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Keith Powers, Theo Von, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Seychelle Gabriel, Mike Mitchell
RUNNING TIME: 140 mins
BASICALLY…: Soldiers from the future recruit present-day fighters to fight an alien invasion that will devastate the planet…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
If you’re in the mood for a big-budget sci-fi blockbuster, which plays around with the concept of time, and happens to have the word “tomorrow” in the title, then you’d be doing yourself a solid by checking out Edge of Tomorrow instead of The Tomorrow War.
The 2014 Tom Cruise actioner, which despite a lukewarm box office has gained an appreciative audience over time, is a much fresher, more fun and overall greater choice than the new Amazon-distributed (having purchased it from Paramount earlier this year) Chris Pratt vehicle, which lacks much of the humour, personality and originality – which is saying something because, unlike The Tomorrow War, Edge of Tomorrow is based on pre-existing material – of something that came out almost ten years ago.
We begin in 2022, when the world is shocked to witness soldiers from thirty years in the future arrive to inform humanity that, in a number of years, the planet will be overrun by a deadly alien species known as “Whitespikes”, igniting a war between species which the humans are sorely losing. To assist them, the soldiers call for a worldwide draft of everyday men and women to travel to the future and take down the aliens before they completely eradicate the human population. One of the people recruited is former Army veteran and science teacher Dan (Pratt), who is reluctant to leave his wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and their young daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) for a futuristic mission he is likely to be killed during, but upon arriving in the year 2051 he fronts a mission that could well be the key to defeating the creatures and preventing the war from even happening.
I’ll have to admit, upon hearing the logline for this film, I was picturing something a little different than what The Tomorrow War eventually ended up being. For some reason, I had it in my head that the plot would consist of drafting people not just from the present (or this movie’s present, in 2022), but from other points in history as well; that got me thinking about how cool it would be to see people from all areas of history come together and fight aliens in the future, and given how director Chris McKay previously combined several aspects of popular culture in stuff like The LEGO Batman Movie or his work on Robot Chicken, this could get insanely fun in no time. However, you can imagine my disappointment when I realised the film itself was going to play things a lot safer, sticking to only a couple of time periods between the present and the future, and pacing itself just like any other major sci-fi alien invasion blockbuster, almost entirely devoid of any individuality or even much of a sense of humour, which again makes it odd that it comes from the director of the wildly funny and inventive LEGO Batman Movie.
That one I can chalk down to my own raised expectations, but even if the logline made it abundantly clear about what it was going to do, The Tomorrow War still wouldn’t have been anything special. Its script, by Zach Dean, is derivative of a lot of other sci-fi movies before it; beyond Edge of Tomorrow (which has a similar time-centric concept as well as its style and some of the visuals), there are familiar plot and visual call-backs to things like Independence Day, World War Z, Interstellar (the latter coming from a later plot thread made predictable by the numerous other movies that include time-travel) and plenty others; even the designs of the aliens themselves look like miniaturised versions of the Cloverfield monster, so there isn’t much to be impressed by in that department either. Because this movie is made up of a lot of those kinds of tropes, executed with a straight face and not a hint of self-awareness about them, it makes so much of the action, the dialogue, the character arcs, and nearly every stylistic choice extremely predictable and thus less interesting than it wants to be. It’s one of those blockbusters that seems like it wants its audience to have a good time, in the same way that you can watch Fast & Furious 9 and enjoy it without thinking too hard about it, but it doesn’t have enough captivating material of its own to draw their attention, and so it feels the need to borrow heavily from other things which, in turn, makes itself look even less inspired.
The film lacks a critical degree of fun which, for an ambitious premise like the one it has, really should have been utilised to give it some kind of a personality, instead of just being another conveyor-belt summer movie. Getting people like lead actor Chris Pratt and director Chris McKay involved, both of whom have been known to do high-scale comedy very well in the past, and then stripping away most of their acute timing and charisma in favour of something blander and less artistically outstanding, seems like an oversight on behalf of the producers, especially now when people want a return to sillier, bombastic blockbuster filmmaking more than ever. I feel like if the studio had allowed the creative team to go weirder and not stick too closely to convention, then The Tomorrow War would have possibly been a lot more memorable and distinctive, or at the very least been something that clearly had its own unique personality or sense of humour to offset some of the heavier elements it tries its hand at.
Instead, it’s a disappointingly mediocre film that has little to say or even do in order to stay in people’s memories. It’s an even greater shame because big-budget movies without an existing IP are very hard to come by these days, and the fact that movies like this debut with little impact makes me doubtful about their sustainability going forward in today’s adaptation-heavy climate. Maybe they should have instead made that crazy imaginary movie I came up with earlier; that way, at least it would have been something memorable.
SO, TO SUM UP…
The Tomorrow War falls short of its ambitious potential by deriving too heavily from other familiar sci-fi movies, with noticeably bland writing and direction that fails to give any of it a distinctive or humorous personality outside of being just another forgettable, conveyor-belt summer blockbuster.