It’s up to Chris Pratt to save the world from ravenous alien creatures intent on wiping out humanity in Amazon’s sci-fi action film, The Tomorrow War. Directed by Chris McKay (The LEGO Batman Movie), this overstuffed alien invasion thriller isn’t nearly as smart as McKay and screenwriter Zach Dorn need it to be in order to keep the momentum going for nearly two and a half hours.
We leap right into the action with Dan Forester (Pratt) falling from the sky and landing in a skyscraper’s swimming pool. But wait…there’s a backstory that needs to be built up so we can root this hero on. Best to tuck that action teaser away for now and explore the Forester family dynamics first.
Dan’s a hard-working family man with a wife (Betty Gilpin, GLOW), young daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), and a penchant for kicking trash cans. A combat veteran who longs to be a researcher, Dan spends his days teaching science and his off time applying for work in a lab. He’s also a dispenser of wisdom – “To be the best you have to do what no one else is willing to do” – and a proud Girl Dad.
Life’s humming along nicely until a World Cup soccer match is interrupted by the sudden appearance of heavily armed soldiers popping out of a black hole-looking void feet above the pitch. They come from the year 2051 bearing bad news: aliens have invaded and humans are well on their way to extinction. These soldiers briefly explain they’re looking to recruit fighters from across the globe to pad out their ranks.
Flash-forward a year and all countries have instituted a draft because, as it turns out, not many people want to volunteer to die horrible deaths. Not everyone survives the jump through time and since the casualty rate is incredibly high, there’s always a need to replenish the depleted forces battling the creatures from outer space.
The odds of winning are slight and anti-war protests erupt across the planet. The world’s in chaos but Dan only wants to teach; he has no intention of leaving his family and becoming food for an alien invader.
Unfortunately, what Dan wants to do and what he’s forced into are two distinct things. Dan’s drafted and an armband that tracks his movements (and will count down the hours until he’s jumped back to the current timeline) is slapped around his forearm. Girl Dad Dan is forced into giving another motivational speech to his young daughter before showing up for his seven-day tour of duty.
It’s quickly apparent only a handful of Dan’s fellow draftees have any useful knowledge of how to fight. The soldiers from the future provide very little in the way of helpful information on how to take out the aliens known as White Spikes and no real combat training. And, as they rush through explaining, the jumps can’t move around to different times other than this exact day 28 years in the future. Plus, there aren’t even any photos of the aliens to prepare them for what they’re going up against as it’s believed just the sight of one would be enough to scare anyone out of making the jump.
Something goes horribly wrong during the jump and that’s why Dan and only a few of his fellow unwilling recruits who were fortunate enough to land in the pool survive to take on a rescue mission. Dan’s placed in charge of the group – of course – by brilliant scientist and Romeo Command Colonel (Yvonne Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale) who orders him to take his small ragtag group and rescue scientists at a nearby research facility. And thus begins Dan’s quest to ensure there’s a future beyond 2051 for his beloved daughter.
30 minutes in we’re finally treated to our first look at the White Spikes. And, yes, they are hideous enough to make even the most battle-hardened soldier request a change in briefs. Once they appear, the film transitions from family drama to full-on action as Dan teams up with the colonel to find a way to squash this seemingly unstoppable invading force before all hope is lost.
I have so many questions. Why didn’t the soldiers who leaped into our time provide more details on the origin of the aliens? Seems like that would have been the best use of the time-jump technology, rather than using it to find unwilling participants to basically sacrifice themselves to hungry aliens. My other pressing questions can’t be put in writing as they’re spoiler-filled. Suffice it to say the story plays it real loosey-goosey with the science behind time-jumping and with the how, whats, and whys of this alien apocalypse. The rules appear to be fairly cut and dry until you pause a minute and think it all through.
The CG creatures are fearsome-looking and their ability to shoot darts from their tentacles adds an extra layer of creepiness as they move in packs gobbling up anything that breathes. It makes sense that we’re losing to these aliens because they’re lightning-fast and only have two vulnerable spots on their massive bodies.
Our hero Dan is ex-military so his control under pressure is understandable. But that shouldn’t apply to his fellow recruits (played by Sam Richardson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Mike Mitchell) who are plopped into the future with no training and yet within minutes manage to adopt mannerisms of highly skilled military veterans. And they do so while still keeping their sense of humor, tossing one-liners to lighten the mood while they should be more concerned about being eaten by aliens.
Chris Pratt, who’s far better at comedy than drama, attempts to hold the convoluted story together. Chopping off a good 30 minutes might have brought him closer to success. The creature effects and fight scenes are impressive but leaving out a handful wouldn’t have hurt the film’s flow or negatively affected the plot.
Yvonne Strahovski gamely tries to make Romeo Command Colonel a fierce force to be reckoned with and more than just your standard “military leader in a sci-fi film” caricature. Strahovski adds a little meat to the character, and her interactions with Pratt are the moments in the film when the Guardians of the Galaxy star seems to really come alive.
The always terrific J.K. Simmons (as Dan’s estranged dad) steals the few scenes he appears in, but Betty Gilpin is basically a throw-away character and horribly underutilized.
The Tomorrow War goes on for an eternity before finishing up with an incredibly ridiculous ending. After sitting through two-plus hours, the final act is utter nonsense and a complete letdown.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some suggestive references, action, language, and intense sci-fi violence
Release Date: July 2, 2021
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes