The Tomorrow War review: Surprisingly emotional sci-fi
Surprising emotional heft9
Joke about Santa5
How pleased FIFA will be with its role8
Ian Loring | On 02, Jul 2021
Director: Chris McKay
Cast: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, JK Simmons, Betty Gilpin
With different movie studios finding their way through the coronavirus pandemic, it’ll be interesting to see which emerges out of the rubble as winners, but it feels like Paramount could be top of the heap. Selling some fare to streamers – Coming 2 America and Without Remorse netted the company guaranteed income – while holding on to films they had box-office faith in resulted in A Quiet Place 2 arriving in cinemas in 2021 and the much-delayed The Tomorrow War arriving on Amazon Prime Video. With its casting of Chris Pratt and “what if?” sci-fi plot, it feels designed for the biggest screens and yet here it is available to all who like their movies with a side of next-day delivery. The question is: have we missed out by not being able to see it big and loud?
Directing a film of three different, at times almost disparate, acts, Chris McKay (The LEGO Batman Movie) is caught between a rock and a hard place. The film is trying both to be your modern quip-filled action blockbuster and to look at the very real effect a time-travelling war would have on the psyche of the individual and the world at large. Dan Forester (Chris Pratt’s everyman ex-soldier turned high school teacher) doesn’t suffer PTSD but the trauma of a not-yet-lived future is thrust into the spotlight when he – along with many other present-day civilians – are asked to fight a war being waged against an alien terror 30 years from now.
While the film makes the choice to show nations and world leaders working together (this is a mythical world where Gordon Brown appears to be hugely relevant still), there is a disappointing lack of actors from around the world coming together to defeat the big bad. The all-American cast – including Yvonne Strahovski’s Romeo Command – do the world-saving here, although the film does a good job in selling just how narrow-minded many people would be about the situation, with a “not my war” thread bobbing its head up every now and then. PTSD, the sins of the father and very real emotional and physical loss are also talked about with surprising regularity.
The threat being faced is also a surprising highlight. The introduction of the extra-terrestrial villains takes some real cues from the introduction of the xenomorphs in Aliens, that film being an obvious inspiration for some production design choices – particularly in a sequence that must have threatened to mess with the film’s 12 certificate. That the aliens are used rather sparingly through the runtime is likely a question of budget but it also means their lean, mean and nasty design is impactful when it needs to be and they certainly remain imposing throughout.
However, this push-pull of what the film is interested in lends it a muddled tone. The first act sets the “we have come from your future and need you to fight” stakes, while also presenting some truly awful line readings that wouldn’t be out of place in Birdemic and stabs at humour that feel like they come from another film entirely. The second act shifts focus away from many of the characters set up in the first act to instead engage with the emotional heart of the story. It does a pretty good job – and then the third act swings things back, re-introduces characters the film felt like it had given up on, makes more jokes and ramps up the action, when you just wish it stayed with the tone of the previous act. Chris Pratt and Yvonne Strahovski do a terrific job in selling the personal stakes on the biggest, most apocalyptic stage but, frankly, Pratt’s better in this when he’s not making jokes.
The Tomorrow War is a messy film that tries too often to be funny but ultimately engages as a seemingly one-and-done blockbuster that has more on its mind than blowing things up. It isn’t always successful in that aim but its admirable that it tries. The film feels like it could have been a quiet classic if it had come out in the 90s, so it would be a shame if this got lost in the noise of content out there today – do give it a try.