The Tomorrow War (2021) takes today’s audience for fools.
As a parable for the current climate crisis, THE TOMORROW WAR works to the extent that it tells a story of humanity being informed that certain doom is coming in thirty years’ time unless drastic action is taken and, in response, humanity shrugging their shoulders. As an action movie, it just about passes muster, provided you’re okay with it being so very, very derivative. But as a serious science fiction concept, it’s so determinedly ignorant of the implications of its own storytelling that it can’t help but trip over its own inept handling of the practicalities and pitfalls of time travel.
In December 2022, Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) learns he’s been passed over for a prestigious research job he’d hoped to get. Trying to contain his disappointment, he returns to his family Christmas party to watch the World Cup when suddenly soldiers from the year 2051 arrive through a wormhole to warn the viewing billions that thirty years in the future, humanity is on the brink of extinction due to an alien invasion. In response, members of the world’s militaries are sent into the future, but with the survival rate less than 20, the governments of the world decide to institute a worldwide draft.
THE TOMORROW WAR doesn’t waste a great deal of time in explaining its dilemma beyond the superficial and it’s hard not to suspect this is a deliberate choice because more details would beget more scrutiny. The idea of a future population looking to the past for military aid is, admittedly, an intriguing one but immediately raises a huge red flag over the grandfather paradox. There is at least some attempt to explain why this doesn’t matter but in doing so, it only underlines how stupid the future humans’ strategy is. When seasoned military personnel are decimated by the remorseless alien invaders, the idea seems to be just to throw bodies at the problem in the hope that something will happen (in which case they should have gone further back in time to World War I when that kind of thinking was very much in vogue).
The worldwide draft recruits people from all walks of life, puts a gun in their hand and flings them forward in time thirty years to take on a foe they (and the audience) don’t really understand. It’s made even dumber by the revelation that while infantry troops are particularly poorly suited to taking on the ‘Whitespikes’, the creatures are entirely vulnerable to existing weaponry and ordnance yet there’s no programme to send tanks, planes, bombs and other equipment through with the regiment after regiment of cannon fodder. Nobody even seems to think of providing the scientists and tacticians of the present day with all the intelligence and data gathered on the invaders to enable them to have thirty years to prepare weaponry and defences. If you have the power of time travel, using it to go back in time before a cataclysm and scoop people up to bring forward to drop straight into the bloodied jaws of said cataclysm seems like the most asinine thing you could do.
THE TOMORROW WAR, realising that at scale its story doesn’t make sense, quickly reduces itself down to The Tomorrow Mission, pairing Pratt’s all-too-convenient high school biology teacher/ former green beret with his now-grown daughter to identify and weaponise a biological weapon to use against the aliens. Again, they do this in the middle of a warzone where human teeters on the very brink of defeat instead of taking the research material safely thirty years into the past to be worked on at leisure. Pratt himself seems utterly lost by the scripts contortions as it tries desperately to cover up for how ludicrous it all is and while the likes of Yvonne Strahovski, J K Simmons and Betty Gilpin do their best, they’re all undermined by how underdeveloped the family dynamics are despite the fact that they are pivotal in driving forward what this film fatuously calls its plot.
One of the many problems THE TOMORROW WAR has is that’s it’s really three different movies trying to coexist as a cohesive whole and failing miserably. Breaking it down into three acts, it’s as if each act comes from an entirely different movie – or more appropriately rips off a different movie. BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC had more coherent temporal mechanics than this. BATTLE: LOS ANGELES covered alien invasion versus combat troops more viscerally and credibly and either ALIEN or THE THING (take your pick) covered the finale with more style and substance than this did.
Chaotically directed, lazily performed and cursed with the worst sound mix this side of TENET, Paramount must be laughing all the way to the bank after getting Amazon to shell out $200million on this subprime slice of sci-fi hokum.