"I'm just glad Will Smith isn't alive to see this," remarks a character looking upon a burning Miami cityscape, several decades in the future. That's the biggest laugh I got from The Tomorrow War, a silly but almost-fun time travel action movie. This isn't a great sci-fi film, but it's a passable action movie, and a healthy quotient of goofy lines help it from being entirely submerged by noisy CG aliens.
Several decades into the future, humanity is losing a war against alien invaders, and it's resorted to recruiting people from the past to help fight this losing battle. Those at the top of the conscription list are people set to die in the near future anyway – which is a bleak methodology, but an interesting use of humanity's knowledge of what's to come. Family man Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) is a military veteran who's drafted into the war because he'll die in a few years anyway, for reasons unclear to him. Leaving his wife and daughter behind, he joins a bunch of other civilians in the draft.
When the recruits arrive in the future, they're dropped by a portal above a cityscape, with many dying just from the fall. The creatures infesting the planet are a mix of the xenomorphs from Aliens, the toothy monsters from A Quiet Place and squids from our world – fighting them with military hardware seems to just about work, but not very well. Scientists in the future have to resort to more unusual measures just to get some kind of advantage on their opponents.
Collectively, the movie feels like World War Z, Edge of Tomorrow and a tiny bit of Joe Haldeman's The Forever War combined, but with most of the interesting influences therein sanded off. It's a competent action movie with a few decent set pieces, but it lacks one big idea to distinguish itself from the films and other media that inspired it.
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Dads vs aliens
The movie's pretty big on dad storylines – Forester has to leave his daughter behind just to fight in this pointless war, while Dan has his own strained relationship with his dad, played by JK Simmons. That side of things represents the emotional crux of the film, but it isn't that engaging, even if the actors take a big swing at it.
The Tomorrow War is far more exciting when it's behaving like Aliens, with a group of oddball civilians heading into certain death, and quipping to stop themselves from freaking out. As it gets deeper into its second half, it becomes less about this fun stuff, and more about the generational drama of an impending apocalypse.
I wish it'd tried harder to be more funny than sentimental, especially because the running time boldly exceeds two hours, which is a big ask from the viewer. The Tomorrow War doesn't quite balance these two tones properly.
The aliens aren't scary or realistic enough for the threat level to feel tense. This is an overused criticism leveled at films that use CG monsters, but these things really do look like monsters you'd shoot in a Gears of War game. They don't have much definition, they're not revealed in a memorable way, and unlike A Quiet Place's meticulously-crafted monsters, you couldn't really imagine seeing one in real life.
Another noticeable issue is with the film's pacing. The Tomorrow War absolutely peaks with its explosive foray into the future in act two, and while the third act tries to drum up some momentum, it never generates the same level of excitement.
It could've been much funnier
The setup is a great fit for Pratt, whose comedic instincts immediately elevate the film – it's just a shame that this fades away later in The Tomorrow War when it gets a bit too serious. Generally speaking, the cast is a cut above what this movie probably deserves: The Handmaid's Tale's Yvonne Strahovski, GLOW's Betty Gilpin and 24's Mary Lynn Rajskub are among the supporting players.
In some ways, it's slightly mystifying that a big budget movie like this can exist in 2021 – it's definitely encouraging that Hollywood is still willing to take a punt on an original sci-fi film on this scale, even if they do end up streaming on Amazon rather than heading to theaters.
The problem with The Tomorrow War is that it's not clever enough to be a great sci-fi movie, and not fun enough to be a memorable action film. If it had swung a little further either way, it'd be an easier recommendation.
The Tomorrow War is now streaming worldwide on Amazon Prime Video.