The Tomorrow War is a movie that looks ahead to an arguably better future. Not for humanity, of course: In this movie’s 2050, humanity is done for, as it’s embroiled in a war with ravenous alien creatures so devastating that time-travel technology has been invented just to stem the losses, drafting present-day citizens into an unwinnable conflict. Yet this blockbuster depiction of a global disaster isn’t that of a sequel, prequel, reboot or remake; it’s instead apart of the art of rip-offs: a mix of Edge of Tomorrow with elements of A Quiet Place, Interstellar and Aliens. The movie accumulates much from its betters before it starts to rot from the inside. Eventually, it becomes a distended corpse of a big-ticket blockbuster, one that will quickly find itself lost within the streaming sea.
Yet that also doesn’t mean that the movie can’t find a noteworthy detail or two: for one thing, most of the contemporary recruits brought into this future war are over forty. Despite a lengthy adjustment period for present-day humanity, that commonality goes unnoticed by anyone but Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), a former solider and current high school biology teacher. Prior to the revelation about the impending apocalypse and his mandatory service, Dan is dealing with the deferment of his science-lab dreams, supported by his loving wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and their precocious young daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong).
Dan’s mission is only supposed to separate him from his beloved family for one week. Future-jumped soldiers are automatically zapped back to their own time after that period is up — so long as they’re still alive. The majority don’t make it, though that doesn’t dissuade the military from its strategy of sending wave after wave of barely-trained citizens into the fray. Dan also intuits that the older-than-average soldiers are selected largely based on their futures: The government is attempting to employ those who, thanks to time travel, they know have already died of another causes some time before 2050 rolls around. The idea of needing to paradox-proof military service is an intriguing one, though this movie is much more interested with it on a personal stage for Dan rather than the world at large. After a rushed jump into the future and several skirmishes with the unstoppable alien foes, Dan pries some more information about his future/past from a no-nonsense commander (Yvonne Strahovski), who’s withholding some notable information from Dan.
The connection between those two helps create the film’s poor characterization of Dan: he’s portrayed as a good husband, attentive and loving father, tough solider, capable leader, and near-genius scientist, leaving any personal failings as abstract, offscreen concepts that can only be explained, never dramatized, before they’re heroically overcome. Pratt gets in a few regular-guy witticisms, but mostly the movie extends the option on Hollywood’s baffling collective decision to employ him as an all-American can-do adventurer rather than an underachieving goofball. Director Chris McKay can’t claim ignorance; this is his first live-action feature after working on several animated Lego movies, some of which show much greater understanding of the charms that Pratt has. And that isn’t the element that connects back to McKay’s early films: The Tomorrow War‘s smashy, explosion-y action sequences feel a little like hyperactive Lego Movie chases with some sci-fi gore added.
Ultimately, it’s the movie’s approach to its emotional material feels far to calculated. Potentially wells of poignancy and regret are introduced with screenwriter deliberateness, only to go untapped in favor of acquiring even more bits and pieces from better spectacles: a Nolan-esque rumbling score, MCU-styled self-referential one-liners. None of this is a through and through disaster, but there’s still some optimism at the heart of The Tomorrow War: This movie has already been made and will probably not be made again in the future. Tomorrow having already been discovered. The Tomorrow War, bloated and belabored with a central hollowness, from the get-go is absorbed in being a clunking piece of instruction-manual cinema.
The Tomorrow War is available to stream on Prime Video