Review: ‘The Tomorrow War’ (Thelma and Louise to the Future)

Cool critters foiled by every time-travel trope ever.

Waiting on word on whether he’s landed his dream job in a research lab, Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) witnesses an incident on television during a soccer match: armed combatants appearing midfield through a materializing doorway of light. The soldiers declare Earth is battling an invading force thirty years in the future… and humanity is losing. As fearful world governments readily offer up their citizenry for conscription, Dan finds himself drafted, sentenced to fight for one week before being returned to his own time… should he live so long. After passing up a chance offered by his absentee father (J.K. Simmons) to dodge his notice, Dan says goodbye to his beloved wife and daughter to begin training. When a surprise attack prompts a premature departure into the future with fatal results, survivors look to Dan to survive, radio-guided by a mysterious Colonel (Yvonne Strahovski) with an agenda all her own.

Considering its effects-heavy sci-fi setting, it’s difficult to watch the trailers and not imagine Star Lord moonlighting between galactic capers as a soldier for hire. The premise presented also feels inhumane as seemingly random forty-something or older adults are drafted as cannon fodder for a battle that likely won’t happen in what remains of their lifetimes; cue human rights and anti-war protests. At the same time, the advertising looks equally familiar, an amalgamation of other edgy temporal tales such as Edge of Tomorrow and Looper. Directed by The Lego Batman Movie and “Robot Chicken” helmer Chris McKay, can this Amazon Prime action thriller go the distance across time and space?

The good news is the distinctly alien menace; these critters appear fairly original as more-than-capable man-killers with too few weak spots and battle-ready. Their introduction at the beginning of the second act — especially the stairwell scene — is awesome edge-of-your-seat popcorn stuff. In spite of a decent cast doing what they can, it’s everything before and after this creature feature intro that weighs the film down. Whether it’s gaps in character logic or leaps of faith in so-called science, every goodwill gesture forward is ruined by two cringe-worthy failures. There are endless moments set up as make-or-break decisions throughout the third act (“If we guess wrong, everybody dies!”) destroying credibility by always being guessed correct. It’s as if someone transplanted a great idea for a monster movie into the cheapest derivative script available… or maybe the editor working on the rough cut was fired under the false assumption the final cut was already complete.

The film feels like a treatment for the first season of a television show rather than a two-hour feature; as an overstuffed movie, there isn’t time enough to make viewers care about who the characters are or explain some shaky writers’ room fringe science. When audiences learn what is actually happening, why it’s happening, and the actual intent, it doesn’t take a great imagination to think up numerous smarter ways to accomplish the same task… unless you count needing all the carnage and death to appear in the movie. In other words, yes: foolish and/or stupid things happen merely to move the script from one money-shot to the next. Any subtext about fighting other people’s wars and a global draft are absent save for a montage of television reports, just enough to pad the trailers.

Given time to rework the script or make a longer series with smaller goals to accomplish would have done the production a solid; it’s a decent concept that suffers from being woefully under-cooked. You know, like everything in that completely forgettable Independence Day sequel Will Smith was smart enough to pass on.

The Tomorrow War is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, some suggestive references, and it sure is a good thing we had (fill in the blank here) or we’d be in big trouble!

Two skull recommendation out of four

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