Time travel, aliens and Chris Pratt. They’ve all become unavoidable staples of the sci-fi action genre over the years so it should shock no one that all three of these elements have been brought together for Amazon’s latest sci-fi feature “The Tomorrow War”. Originally planned for a theatrical release by Paramount but eventually moved to Amazon due to the pandemic (why Paramount didn’t choose to release it on Paramount+ I have no idea) “The Tomorrow War” brings an intriguing premise to the table. Soldiers from the future arrive in the film’s present day to warn of an impending war against an alien species seeking help from the present (in their case the past) to fight the battles. When biology teacher and former Green Beret Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) is drafted to serve the mandatory seven days in the future he discovers that he was chosen for a reason as he may hold the key to finally winning the war before it ever even begins. “The Tomorrow War” does more than most movies attempt to work around the paradoxes and contrivances of its time-travel based plot, and while it provides a constantly engaging and fun experience the final product doesn’t exactly revolutionize its genres in any special ways.
“The Tomorrow War” combines some intriguing elements that all blend into an action-packed adventure through time as Pratt’s Dan Forester is thrust into a war more than thirty years into the future taking on aliens called the Whitespikes, nearly unstoppable killing machines with videogame weak spots that fire deadly spikes from their tentacles. Within the first half hour we are introduced to the premise, handed some science mumbo-jumbo and arrive on the battlefield where all hell breaks loose. In that time “The Tomorrow War” provides some interesting answers that other time travel films just tend to gloss over. The soldiers are drafted based on their existence in the future destination. They aren’t alive in the year they’re being teleported to eliminating the risk of a paradox if they meet themselves. Forester is also challenged with the idea of saving a future he is trying to change. Due to what we later discovers is a personal connection to the future, Forester is torn between trying to save that future and everyone in it or returning to the past with a potential solution that would wipe the timeline clean and create a better result. It’s an interesting conundrum and one that gives this movie a bit more self-awareness than most other time travel movies continuing a trend from films like “Avengers: Endgame” and “Tenet” where time-travel focuses on the future and the past simultaneously rather than putting the primary focus on one or the other. The fates of two worlds always feel like they’re hanging in the balance.
Throughout “The Tomorrow War” the film hints some powerful themes of morality and finding meaning in one’s own life even with the impending reality of death. In terms of time travel it even explains that with each failed attempt to use soldiers of the past to fight in the future the Earth’s population is depleting, presenting two conflicts. The first is that the whole idea is to stop a war that destroys humanity, but does it really help to destroy humanity by sending them to the future and deplete the population themselves before the aliens even arrive in the past or are they only exacerbating the problem be destroying the fighting force that could have stopped the aliens before the future ever gets that bad? It’s a pretty cool conundrum and poses deeper questions than this film dares to answer sadly. The other conflict is presented through one character specifically, Edwin Hodge’s Dorian, who, like literally everyone sent to the future, knows they won’t live for the thirty years it takes for the world to fall, so he questions what’s the point? They’re fighting for a future they won’t get to see and if they succeed the future they’re fighting in won’t exist, so how much do you invest in it all? These could be considered powerful ideas for a sci-fi action flick to tackle if this movie was more committed to those nuances than the CGI action.
Sadly “The Tomorrow War” gets bogged down by a formulaic approach to a story that could have and should have been much more subtle and contemplative. Now, this kind of works well to the film’s advantage by creating a non-stop action extravaganza clearly built for the big screen. This movie rarely takes a breather but, to its credit, when it does it uses that time to explore the characters and how they are dealing with the impending apocalypse and the potential for failure. It’s thanks in large part to the cast that includes Pratt, Hodge, Yvonne Strahovski and Sam Richardson in the future as well as J.K. Simmons and Betty Gilpin in the past that these small moments of calm work so well despite being surrounded by chaos and CGI explosions. However, I would have liked to see the film explore its more nuanced themes and ideas more clearly. As it stands, director Chris McKay and writer Zach Dean take a more generic approach to “The Tomorrow War” using these more touching and human moments to provide a breather from the chaos rather than using the chaos to compliment the more human moments. In the end it does create an exciting and competently crafted action film but it’s one whose potential is overshadowed by a need to conform to genre cliches to give audiences more of what they want and not as much of what they need.
With all that said “The Tomorrow War” does feel like a missed opportunity to some extent. But I’ll admit compared to a lot of other films of its caliber this one offered enough to keep me fully invested, allow me to relate to and appreciate the characters, their relationships and their motives, and also lose myself in the action while understanding the stakes at hand. That’s a lot to handled and on the most basic level “The Tomorrow War” does it well, it just doesn’t go all the way and feels like a mishmash of all the best things from the past instead of driving the time-travel, alien, or action genres, let alone all of them combined, into a bright new future. Some committed performances, competent action direction and a splash of genuine heart help keep “The Tomorrow War” from feeling overly generic but not enough where I’ll remember it in the near future. Overall, I had a lot of fun with this movie and wouldn’t mind seeing it evolve into a television series or something like that. I think it feels tailor made for a medium that can better explore its deeper ideas more clearly and fully. But for now, this isn’t a bad movie. It’s just stuck with an identity crisis that sadly overshadows what makes it special with elements that make it more familiar resulting in an enjoyable one-off that’s far from memorable but still deserves to be seen.