Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t know if Paramount realized what they had with The Tomorrow War. Here’s a high-concept sci-fi film attempting to channel the energy of Independence Day, complete with some decent star power and capable action direction. A blockbuster-budgeted movie that delivers the goods may not be enough in a somewhat crippled theatrical world powered largely by IP, but it was a missed opportunity not to watch this film on a big screen. As it stands, for a Prime Video exclusive, many will have a closer encounter with their screen to watch it than what could have been, but this alien invasion flick is a solid summer watch.
Beginning in modern times, out of nowhere, time-traveling humans arrive from the year 2051 to deliver an urgent message about a future war against an alien species. The problem – humans are losing. The plan is to recruit soldiers and civilians from the past to fight in the future. Chris Pratt stars as Dan, a veteran-turned-high school science teacher who is recruited to help engage in this battle.
While the film is not here to lean on the irony of casting Pratt as “the Special,” a concept he spoofed in The Lego Movie and then doubled down on in The Lego Movie 2, it doesn’t really matter. Director Chris McKay (co-director of The Lego Movie and director of The Lego Batman Movie) knows what he can get out of Pratt, letting the actor feel more fitting as this sort of action lead, compared to his efforts in the Jurassic World series. Pratt’s also surrounded by a solid supporting cast.
Yvonne Strahovski has a vital role as a future colonel and scientist who shares the right kind of chemistry with Pratt. Sam Richardson is a lot of fun as a civilian brought into all of this action chaos. Edwin Hodge takes a more serious approach as a military man who keeps taking on tours into the future to fight. After showing her action chops in The Hunt, it’s a setback for Betty Gilpin to simply serve as “the wife” for Pratt, but the film balances things out with other female cast members put into action ranging from comedian Mary Lynn Rajskub to The Legend of Korra’s Seychelle Gabriel. And the film adds on J.K. Simmons as Pratt’s dad for good measure as well.
Honestly, it really was hard not to think of Roland Emmerich’s 90s alien invasion/disaster movie (and Edge of Tomorrow Live. Die. Repeat.), but that’s apparently what McKay took inspiration from. While the concept has a dark edge to it (though it’s not like ID4 took it easy on Earth, either), the film matches a level of earnestness with genuine fun moments and action set pieces. The initial jump to the future presents an excellent level of tension, leading to the reveal of these aliens. By the time the characters find themselves in a hectic firefight, I couldn’t help but feel involved with their efforts to simply survive.
There are films where this stuff all just feels a little weightless (Battle: LA comes to mind). McKay isn’t reinventing anything with his efforts, but as his first live-action feature, he acquits himself well when it comes to nailing a tone for such a grandiose sci-fi action movie. Even when noting some cinematic shortcomings that involve some minor pacing issues and narrative convenience, I can’t say I was ever not entertained by what was taking place on screen.
This speaks to the aliens as well. While these bigger studio films caught onto the Cloverfield monster as a source of inspiration a lot over the past decade, I was pretty impressed by what The Tomorrow War came up with. The threat presented is scary and nasty-looking, and whether it’s just one or swarms of them, they remain threatening. Is there a higher purpose for them, or can one assign a metaphor to what it all means? Not really, but as a straightforward alien enemy, the movie does what it needs to have something powerful for our heroes to go up against.
It’s hard not to be enthusiastic about an original sci-fi film like this. The Tomorrow War just hit me in the right way (and that’s based on a screener, whereas the 4K UHD streaming presentation will only do more justice to Larry Fong’s cinematography and the terrific visual effects on display). Even the time travel logic is given just enough reasoning for me to be more intrigued by the explanations rather than perplexed. Sure, a more cynical viewer could try to poke holes and view the concept as being quite dumb, but the film is in on the fun. The script is just smart enough to deliver on this idea and gave me the kind of summer action ride I like to see.