The Tomorrow War

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

The Tomorrow War
"A more than creditable effort by director Chris McKay and writer Zach Dean."

Dontcha just hate it when the critics line up to dunk on a film? I don’t usually look at what other reviewers have said about a film before turning in my own review. Sometimes, though, you just have to. In this case, to confirm that, yes, Amazon appears to have picked The Tomorrow War from Paramount Pictures for a budget-busting $200 million.

Wow! That puts it up there with other sci-fi blockbusters, such as Edge Of Tomorrow which, according to Wikipedia, came in at $178 million. So, inevitably, comparisons are being made and a lot of folks have decided that this particular war comes up wanting.

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I think that is unfair: and other than a general post-pandemic tetchiness, I am not altogether sure why so many folks decided to axe-grind on this film.

The basic plot of The Tomorrow war is simple if far-fetched. In the middle of a major sporting event, a bunch of soldiers materialise with a chilling message for the watching world. They are from the future – not much more than 30 years hence. In that future, humanity is waging war against an alien invader. Worse, humanity is losing. If nothing changes, the human species faces extinction in a little over 30 years’ time. Or a year or so from the perspective of the future fighters.

They are in desperate need of help. So, a programme begins in which battalions of now humans transport forward to assist future humans resist the menace of the “white spike”, as the aliens are not so affectionately known. It doesn’t help.

Cue Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), High School biology teacher and Iraqi vet. Dan is an ordinary family guy. He adores wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong/Yvonne Strahovski), while making many of the same mistakes as estranged father and tech wizard James (JK Simmons).

Yes. Muri is played by two different actors because – minor spoiler, but one revealed early in the film – all this time-hopping means that 2022 Dan gets to interact not only with 2022 Muri, but also all grown up 2052 Muri.

What, then, did the rest of the reviews dislike? The most obvious accusation is that it is derivative. Comparisons abound to Oblivion (humanity’s end), Independence Day (invasion by genocidal aliens) and Edge Of Tomorrow (lone male combatant must deal with time paradoxes to put an end to alien menace). Personally, I’d add World War Z (just look at those aliens swarm!) and every first-person shooter ever.

On the other hand, when has blockbuster sci-fi not been at least a bit derivative? Some dislike the logical plot holes, as if sci-fi involving time travel has always accorded perfectly with Einstein’s theory of special relativity. Yet more seem to have it in for Pratt personally, with several comparing him unfavourably to Tom Cruise. That last dunk feels more than a bit of a stretch.

Is it just that Pratt, with his slightly awkward religious affiliations, is still slightly problematic for some critics?

Personally, I don’t get it. This is not War and Peace. But then, it doesn’t set out to be. If you like films in which hordes of vicious alien critters get splatted by slightly wooden human heroes and the whole shebang is saved at the 11th hour by some clever tech McGuffin, you will be on familiar territory. It is what it is and it is not bad way to pass a couple of hours.

The one criticism that I will make is that far from being overlong, as some claim, it is too short, by at least a film. There are several very different, not entirely related plot threads in play: initial recruitment; future fighting; action in the present. A bolder director might have opted for at least a second film in order to explore these topics. Peter Jackson would likely have gone for the triple!

Still, it is a more than creditable effort by director Chris McKay and writer Zach Dean.

Also, largely overlooked, are two other themes. The first is climate change. Not just how it eventually figures in the denouement, but also how human response to future threat is at best lukewarm, at worst hypocritical and counter-productive.

The second over-looked theme is family. There is next to no romantic sub-plot here: how could there be, given Dan’s happy daddy status? Still, family and the importance thereof plays quite a major part, with father-son and father-daughter tensions and fallings out both central. Also, in the end, a slightly dubious conclusion that seems to deconstruct as “the family that kills together, stays together!”.

Ignore the nay-sayers! Three and a half stars!

Reviewed on: 02 Jul 2021
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The Tomorrow War packshot
Time travellers arrive with a warning about the future and to recruit people from the present to join the fight. A schoolteacher signs up.

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