The Tomorrow War is a tired war of past alien movies that never ended.
The Tomorrow War (2021) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on July 9, 2021
Rating 2 /5
If The Tomorrow War bears a striking resemblance to Independence Day from first glance, it’s a good instinct. Good but not great. The alien invasion picture certainly adheres to all the familiar tropes of military science fiction where the fate of the planet lies in a handful of armed Americans. But it also lacks much of the personality and humanity that was present in Independence Day, which is not at all a good sign for a film that casts charisma magnets Chris Pratt, J. K. Simmons, and Sam Richardson.
Pratt plays Dan Forester, a former Green Beret who can’t seem to find much work past being a mere biology teacher. But the world needs him most when time travelers of the future inform the people of the present that mindless aliens are dominating the planet. The obvious path would be to find out how and when the aliens come to Earth and stop them before they can ravage the Earth. But then the film wouldn’t be over two hours. So people are drafted into the army and sent into the future with guns to stop the alien threat.
Even though The Tomorrow War isn’t an ensemble piece, focusing specifically on the personal plights of Dan, this film just wants to do way too much. It wants to be a run-and-gun action picture where Pratt leads a team while Richardson constantly curses and flees in terror. It wants to be a tale of coming to terms with your future when it’s revealed that future colonel Muri (Yvonne Strahovski) is Dan’s grown-up daughter, an emotional tether that is woefully unexplored even with such an overly long running time. It also wants to be about Dan proving himself to his father, played by Simmons in his standard but never explosive snark. Oh, and the film also wants to be about climate change but only in the fourth act and with the little build, making the finale of Happy Feet blush.
All of this would be fine if there was some character and personality to any of the frenetic, big, and violent actions of humans versus aliens. Sure, the bar is low for this genre, but the film still turns up short if we’re reducing it to popcorn levels of entertainment. We know that Pratt is capable of great comedy but even he can’t squeeze blood out of this stone. He can only put on the standard dad-level of snark. One of his early exchanges with a fellow soldier played by Sam Richardson perfectly encapsulates the limited humor. Richardson asks Pratt how he knows so much about guns and dangerous missions. “It’s a long story,” says Pratt. “Ex-military?” guesses Richardson. “Okay, it’s a short story.” What a dud of a punchline.
It’s hard to be as invested in the action of an alien invasion that follows because there’s so little character to be invested in that you hope everything will end up just fine. How likely are we to believe that the drafted soldiers of the present, still in their office and job attire, will survive their initial encounter with monsters who eat them? Should we care if they make it out alive? We don’t know much about them at all? Heck, we barely know Dan.
I’m not asking for a lot here. Just some ounce of charm or real personal drive instead of the standard surface-level emotional attachments that are so basic and out-of-the-box that you can still see the plastic hasn’t been torn off. It’s hard to appreciate scenes where a city street is bombed, a helicopter crash, and a tanker being overwhelmed by invading aliens when there’s so little worth caring about. And it just keeps going. The third act ends and it feels like the right spot to end when Dan finally connects with his daughter and learns to trust the future. But then there’s still 40 minutes left! The film forgot about all that first-act stuff and has to create a bookend segment of science saving the day.
The Tomorrow War is a tired war of past alien movies that never ended. Consider that it went from being a blockbuster planned for theaters by Paramount that was instead ushered off onto Amazon Prime and not Paramount+. It’s a sci-fi action picture that is so nauseatingly average that it wouldn’t even get the theatrical treatment. Maybe next time don’t cram such pictures with so much that never sticks.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.