Directed by Chris McKay | Written by Zach Dean | 140 min | Amazon Prime
In 2051, aliens attack earth and make short work of us humans. Our solution: go back 30 years in time to recruit people from the past to join the fight in the future. The governments of earth immediately decide on a global conscription to send folks to save the future for a seven-day tour of duty before coming back.
The Tomorrow War set-up prompts a few questions: Why only go back 30 years? Why not go back further? How would people even be convinced this was real? And if folks were on board, would they really go to the future to fight a war that has yet to happen? This is probably a cynical take, but considering the polarized world we live in it seems more likely we’d burn it down before we submit to a draft for a trip to a horrific future, especially as the chances for survival are only 30%.
But, for the sake of entertainment, let’s go along with it.
Our way into this is Dan Forrester (Chris Pratt), Iraq vet turned high school science teacher who, despite having a nice suburban life with his wife, Emmy (Betty Gilpin), and young daughter, Muri (Ryan Keira Armstrong), is frustrated by his inability to land a gig as a researcher.
Then this world-changing event happens, soldier/recruiters arriving from the future, and Dan is drafted. At first he doesn’t want to go, and he looks for help from his estranged father, James (JK Simmons), but they aren’t able to mend their relationship. So, off Dan goes into a future right out of a dystopian First Person Shooter like Crysis or Resident Evil.
Even if you accept the mechanics of time-travel, nobody would ever have survived his arrival. He falls out of the clouds into a rooftop swimming pool, which would’ve crushed him to death. Straining credulity and internal logic right out of the gate isn’t a good look.
And what about time paradoxes (I hear you ask)?
The recruiters know when people in our present die, so they’ve chosen older people, 40 and up, to bring forward as soldiers, so there’s no chance these folks will still be alive in the time they’re going to. As if that’s the only problem: If you travel 30 years in the future and die, what happens to the children you were going to have who might’ve signed up to fight then? Some of them might even have been sent back in time to recruit you! It’s easy to stumble over the script’s shoddy temporal principles.
As it happens, in 2051 Dan connects with the person in charge in the future, a Colonel Forrester (Yvonne Strahovski, recently of The Handmaid’s Tale, and giving the best performance here). No prizes for guessing her relation to Dan, or that the family schism between Dan and his father has extended into another generation. Her plan to stop the aliens is to manufacture a toxin that will kill the females, the queens of the species.
When the aliens show up, they’re entirely derivative of any number of gross-looking, insectoid tentacled critters we’ve seen in movies like The Quiet Place, Annihilation and Edge Of Tomorrow, which this picture very much resembles. The Tomorrow War has all the noise and the action beats from the Tom Cruise picture, but about half the ideas.
With so much substandard CGI-monster action — most of it dull and repetitive — along with a distinct American military saviour thing going on, and Pratt delivering another of his aw-shucks leading dudes who gets a sick-making voice over in the last few minutes, there’s a lot of The Tomorrow War that’s rote and tiresome.
But down under this alien monster movie is a heartfelt climate crisis analogy, asking us to think about how to save our children from an existential threat waiting in the future, which comes to the front and centre in an unexpected and much improved final half-hour. It gives the science nerds a chance to save the earth, which is just enough to elevate the proceedings from an all-shot-on-green-screen, also-ran time-travel blockbuster to something more memorable and worth your two+ hours watching it.