The Tomorrow War, 2021.
Directed by Chris McKay
Starring Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons, Betty Gilpin, Sam Richardson, Theo Von, Jasmine Mathews, Seychelle Gabriel, Alan Trong, Chibuikem Uche, Alexis Louder, Mike Mitchell, Edwin Hodge, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Keith Powers, Felisha Terrell, Melissa Saint-Amand, Gary Weeks, Rose Bianco, Gissette E. Valentin, David Maldonado, Olaolu Winfunke, Piper Collins, Matthew Cornwell, Eric Graise, Ashlyn Moore, Christina Bach, and Jared Shaw.
A family man is drafted to fight in a future war where the fate of humanity relies on his ability to confront the past.
It’s a relief that The Tomorrow War doesn’t get lost in a barrage of futuristic mumbo-jumbo explanations regarding the specifics of humans going 30 years into the future to help fight back against an alien invasion. There are certainly questions to be had involving the interactions between past and present (some of them answered), but the direction from Chris McKay (The LEGO Batman Movie) and Zach Dean’s screenplay is wise to focus on multi-generational effects and rifts, specifically between the Foresters who have a history of military backgrounds. There’s an earned central theme of second chances on both a smaller human scale and the global extinction scale that, while never necessarily deep, collides in a straightforward and crowd-pleasing spectacle way that’s not afraid to embrace its ridiculousness.
Chris Pratt is Dan Forester, a former soldier that developed a passion for biology out in the field. Leaving that life behind in pursuit of his passion doesn’t go as planned for various reasons. For starters, he doesn’t meet the required experience for the job he is counting on. Then there’s the world suddenly thrust into turmoil from the arrival of those from the future warning of the impending attack, putting in motion worldwide recruitment for the titular future war. While the concept of a world united entered into a global draft has been done before, it’s executed slightly differently here in a manner that plays to Chris McKay’s comedic strengths.
Many of these recruits are not experienced soldiers, but rather average Joes working office jobs, let alone having some form of weapons training. Due to the urgency of resistance, there’s also no time to put anyone through introductory courses, forcing Dan to pair up and look after a combination of warriors (Edwin Hodge playing a cancer-stricken man who would instead go out on the battlefield than a hospital bed) and rookies (Sam Richardson as the head of an energy company). Surprisingly, the attempted humor Chris McKay goes for within the dynamic doesn’t always land (it usually comes across as at odds with the seriousness and suspenseful presentation, even when Chris Pratt is occasionally cracking jokes), but the unlikely heroes approach relatively works anyway because the characters are likable, and due to the impressive staging of the action sequences that are putting every special-effects dollar to use to create something visually bombastic.
Some of these set pieces are built on fear of the unknown (it’s worth applauding that the film holds off until around 45 minutes in before unveiling what the male gender of this strange species looks like, and even longer for the much deadlier females), others play into chaotic destruction and explosions galore. In contrast, the climactic battle is one of preparation and tactics with an exciting banger of a final fight. Without saying much, there’s a moment where it seems like the heroes have won, except they haven’t, and it sucks the life right out of Dan with Chris Pratt subtly dropping to his knees from fatigue and desperation, wondering what more can be done.
That’s also not to say that The Tomorrow War is only worth seeing strictly for carnage between humans and aliens; more that these filmmakers understand delivering on that front will heighten the impact of predictable emotional beats surrounding this family in both the present and future. Dan is reluctant to return to military life before deploying into the future (imaginatively done through an inverted purple-glowing portal relying on rushed technology that doesn’t guarantee people will land safely on the other side). As a result, he’s encouraged by his wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) to make amends with his estranged ex-military turned government conspiracy theorist father (J.K. Simmons) that abandoned him, someone capable of unlocking the tracking mechanism ensuring Dan serves his seven-day stint in the future. Needless to say, the meeting doesn’t go off peacefully.
Dan also has a bright young daughter named Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) that also happens to be a commander in the future war (now played by a supremely badass Yvonne Strahovski) who has taken after his love for biology, racing against time to develop a toxin capable of wiping out the alien race. Naturally, this revelation is a jolt to Dan’s mind, but there is no time for bonding or processing past, present, and future. As Dan tries to save his world by protecting the future world, it also becomes clear that he was selected to fight in the war for a greater purpose, which is also a somewhat apparent reason, but the strong performances, well-paced divulging of information, and few quiet downtime segments inject some heart alongside the intensity of survival.
Admittedly, there are plenty of instances where logic, plausibility, and continuity between timelines come into question. That’s also pretty much a given for anything dealing with time travel and multiple timelines. However, The Tomorrow War sticks to the essential details while allowing its charismatic ensemble and extravagant action to stand out at the forefront so competently that it’s easy to overlook how it works. It’s pleasant to watch a time travel war movie against aliens more concerned with characters and fun rather than obsessive details on plot mechanics. Don’t put The Tomorrow War off until tomorrow.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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