This summer’s biggest sci-fi blockbuster released last week to a disappointingly tepid reception. The reason? Well, the film is exceptionally mediocre.
That isn’t to say that The Tomorrow War isn’t worth watching. Its concept – a war being fought 30 years in the future drafting people from the present day to fight an alien invasion using time travel – is genuinely exciting, and its cast (Chris Pratt, J.K. Simmons, Sam Richardson, Betty Gilpin, Yvonne Strahovski) also proves to be something of a draw.
Despite the film’s promise, it’s ultimately a predictable, linear jumble of flawed logic and unnecessary drama.
I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers here, but I’d like to take a moment to point out the plot’s general idiocy. Dan Forester (Pratt) is a former Green Beret turned biology teacher (unlikely, but certainly plausible) who is transported into the future to fight the war. However, when faced with going back to his own time to reunite with his 9 year old daughter and loving wife, he’s reluctant to, given what he learns in the future. Implied paradox aside, the notion that he’d rather stay in or return to the bleakest future imaginable for ANY reason is absolutely insane, especially given that he’s armed with knowledge (among other things) essential to prevent it form happening. The film’s emotional core begins with Forester’s relationship with his daughter, but it shifts slightly to fixate on his crisis about leaving the future, only to shift again to the obvious “let’s save the world” spirit of the third act.
If any of that seemed confusing, watch the film. It’ll all become clear – and by clear, I mean you’ll understand how nonsensical it is from a narrative point of view.
Given that the protagonist is a biology teacher who speaks at length about the power of science, the film comes with a worrying message: that ultimately, bullets are far superior to science. It’s not explicitly stated, but its implied in the way that at every turn, science fails to fully solve any given problem, and guns, grenades and knives were the solution after all.
All that said, visually, the film is excellent. The design of the invading aliens – “Whitespikes”, as they’re known – is something to behold, and they’re brought to life in terrifyingly realistic fashion. It’s acting is also great, with both Pratt and Richardson delivering excellent performances, although there’s certainly a notable and laughable dissonance between what we’re told about our characters and what they show us.
There’s a lot to enjoy about The Tomorrow War; it’s filled with solid sci-fi action, but on closer inspection, the whole story begins to fall apart at the seams, and that’s really not something that ever bodes well for a high-concept sort of film. In different hands, this could have been a thoughtful and powerful piece of cinema, but instead, it’s another summer popcorn flick that we’ll all likely forget within the next few months.
Summary: All flash and no substance, The Tomorrow War presents itself as intelligent, and then behaves so stupidly that it’s honestly a little embarrassing.
Highlight: Seeing the creatures for the first time in a tense, tight-cornered confrontation felt more horror than sci-fi.