The Tomorrow War (2021) Review

A DERIVATE SCI-FI BLOCKBUSTER

ON BORROWED TIME


 

Time travel has always been a very interesting concept, The ability to traverse through the passage of time to go forward (future) and backwards (past) through its flow and encountering events had or will happen or altering sequences to effectively change history is something the stuff of dreamers or flights of fancy. This concept idea has manifested itself into numerous avenues with some being prime narrative construct for the usage of storytelling through various mediums (TV, film, video games, novels, etc.). In the case of movies, time travel, while the idea has been floated around into various genre realms, producing features that capitalize on the importance of traveling through time in a way to help change / defend the particular time era, with the consequences of doing so. These includes films like 1989’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, 1985-1990’s Back to the Future trilogy, 1994’s Timecop, the (1984-2019) Terminator franchise (the series plot is based around the concept), 2002’s The Time Machine, 2009’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, 2012’s Looper, 2019’s Avengers: Endgame as well as many others. Now, Amazon Prime Video (as well as Paramount Picture studios) and director Chris McKay present the latest time travel movie with the release of The Tomorrow War. Does this film “jump” into the future the right way with pure blockbuster entertainment or is it a choppy endeavor that’s all “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey”?

THE STORY


The year is 2022 and Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) is an ex-military man teaching high school biology, trying to make sense of his life. He’s a husband to wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and father to young Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), living in a quaint suburban lifestyle, keeping his distance away from his estranged father, James (J.K. Simmons). One day, soldiers from the year 2051 arrive, presenting the inhabitants of Earth with a warning that the world is on the verge of being overrun by unknown creatures called White Spikes and that their future is doomed. To help prevent this coming disaster, a draft is instituted, with the selected implanted with an armband helping to link them to their time, sent into the future to battle hostile creature invaders of 2051. Of those individuals selected, Dan is one of them to make the jump into the future, making a friend in fellow scientist Charlie (Sam Richardson), while finding survival tips from future war vet Dorian (Edwin Hodge). Arriving in Miami 2051 during a major battle, Dan quickly finds his place in the brutal war, connecting with Commander Forester (Yvonne Strahovski), who’s working on a special toxin that’s capable of decimating the White Spikes populace once and for all. However, Dan’s situation becomes more involved that he can ever imagine.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Just like what Hulk says in Avengers: Endgame… “Time Travel!”. Yes, I do love a good time travel narrative, especially how a person (or group) travels up or down the stream of time to visit / change sequence of events…. for better or worse, which can cause alternative realities to form or the whole “butterfly effect”. Yes…. I’ll admit that I am a bit of nerd when it comes to this type of stuff, so I enjoy that. As I said, the concept of time travel has been quite a useful narrative mechanic for a multitude of narratives out there, with some being better than others and / or more throughout. Within the video game realm, I would say that Chrono Cross and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are some prime examples, while shows like Doctor Who and Outlander cater to some great examples found in the TV venue. Within the cinematic realm, the concept of time travel is there and (as I said) can be dealt within a good manner, but if those mechanics are furthered explained, followed, or presented within a solid narrative. Perhaps the best example (at least to me) is the example would either have to derive from the Terminator franchise or the Back to the Future trilogy; both of which cater to the time travel concept and create their own governing laws of which the movie’s story follows through on. Overall, the idea of time traveling is a good one and I think Hollywood (and several other mediums) have found its surreal and fictitious idea to me something of a proven plot device mechanic for narratives to follow.

The brings me back around to talking about The Tomorrow War, a 2021 sci-fi action feature film. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie until a month or two prior to its release. I think I did hear vague notion of actor Chris Pratt playing a lead role in an upcoming sci-fi movie, but that was pretty much it. Heck, even the film’s trailers weren’t released until somewhat close to when the movie was set to be release. There just wasn’t a whole lot of “buzz” for the movie, so it kind of went under my radar. I think I kept hearing more about it on Instagram as I do follow Pratt on there and he was heavily promoting the upcoming film constantly. So, naturally, I decided to check out the film’s trailer and I do have to say that I was somewhat intrigued by it. I wasn’t completely “blown away” by it, but it definitely held my curiosity to actual see the movie, with its sci-fi concept, futuristic time travel, and with Chris Pratt in the main role. It certainly had the makings of a sci-fi blockbuster and was on the verge of being released theatrically, with an original schedule date set for December 25th, 2020 (Christmas day 2020) by Paramount Pictures. However, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the movie was delayed; shuffled to July 23rd, 2021. After that, Amazon bought the distribution rights to the movie from Paramount, with The Tomorrow War finally settling on July 2nd, 2021, on Amazon Prime Video; switching the film from being released theatrically to a streaming. I do remember when the movie initially came out and I did watch the film a week after its release. However, due to my busy work schedule, I kept on pushing doing my review for the movie. Now, I finally have some free time to share my thoughts on this film. Is it worth seeing? Well…. not really. Despite having an interesting concept and some blockbuster flair to its action, The Tomorrow War never truly comes into its own, wallowing as a generic, middling sci-fi endeavor that feels predictable and formulaic in almost all aspect. Like one character says in the movie “we are literally on borrowed time” and the film is simply that…. on borrowed time.

The Tomorrow War is directed by Chris McKay, whose previous directorial works include several TV shows like Moral Orel, Titan Maximum, and Robot Chicken as well as the feature animated film The LEGO Batman Movie. Given his attraction to more slapstick and comedic endeavors, it does seem like an odd choice that McKay would want to do a project like The Tomorrow War, which is more of a sci-fi action feature. Regardless of that decision he is the director and I do think that the movie does have some good redeeming qualities that the director chooses to make. Perhaps the most interesting one is that overall concept of the film’s story, with McKay staging the opening twenty-five minutes in a very interesting way, presenting the narrative of the film’s plot with its soldiers from the future idea and the war that is to come. The time travel aspect is kind of unique and it definitely “pulled me into” the movie’s first act as well as the film’s main antagonist threat of the Whitespikes, which are more creature-like than generic alien-esque foes from sci-fi. In addition, McKay creates a  morality and purpose also found at this particular point of the story (shown in the feature’s main character of Dan Forester), which does make for a compelling character arc. Where the movie actually truly shines the best (and where McKay’s direction proves to be the most effective) is in the first really big action sequences towards the end of the first act….or is it the beginning of the second act. I can’t remember exactly. Anyway…. this particular seeing is executed quite well and delivers the right number of thrills, suspense, action, and visuals that anyone could ask for. I think McKay truly did nails this part beautifully. There are some other effective action sequences that McKay does stage throughout the movie, which does offer some good sci-fi action bits here and there, but nothing is compared to this particular seeing. Overall, I do have to give some credit towards McKay for what he was able to accomplish with this movie…. for better or worse.

For its presentation, The Tomorrow War is decent enough and has its moments where the movie shines. That being said, the movie is somewhat stuck between blockbuster film endeavor and a TV movie look, which is a bit strange as the project has a production budget $200 million. As a whole, the movie itself looks fine and showcases plenty of large-scale sequences that is fitting a sci-fi action endeavor. However, I think the bloated production budget doesn’t exactly match what’s presented on-screen. Sure, stuff looks slick, clean, and well-detailed, but not so much to warrant such a hefty price tag. I just can’t see it. It just doesn’t push that cinematic “envelope” to make such a large spending as well as that large-scale blockbuster feeling. Still, regardless of that fact, The Tomorrow War looks well-done and its clear that attention to detail is well represented, especially during some of the action set-pieces. Thus, the feature’s “behind the scenes” team, including Peter Wenham (production design) and Beauchamp (set decorations) for making the film’s setting / scenery looks appealing….be a warn torn city or a futuristic lab. Cinematography efforts by Larry Fong are also effective in the film. Nothing to complete “wow” over, but Fong’s technique for cinematics certainly suffices for a few pocket moments of brilliance here and there. The same can be said for the film’s visual effects, which do lend a hand for some of the more action sequences. Again, it’s nothing per say new in breaking “new ground” in this particular field, but it gets the job done and doesn’t have poor effect blemishes. Heck, I do have to say that I was pretty intrigued over the design and rendering of the Whitespikes. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Lorne Balfe, is perhaps one of the better aspects in The Tomorrow War’s technical presentation; finding the soundtrack to stirring and compelling during its quieter moments and very dramatic and bombastic within its louder, action pack sequences. While its not one of my favorite Balfe’s scores produced, it is definitely a solid musical composition….and I do appreciate it.

Unfortunately, The Tomorrow War isn’t all what it cracks up to be and ends up being more of middling endeavor rather than a true blockbuster popcorn feature. Perhaps the best way to sum up the feature is that is, more or less, an unremarkable endeavor that plays up the standard tropes of the large-scale sci-fi narrative. As a whole, the movie itself doesn’t quite feel as powerfully impactful as a cinematic feature film. I know that’s hard to say, but let me try to explain. The story of The Tomorrow War is sort of good, with a very strong start within its premise (as mentioned above), but then after the beginning of the second act, the film starts to slow down and becomes somewhat generic and basically losses steam within its own story plot, which is gravely disappointing. In addition, the movie’s narrative gets bogged down with classic stereotypes of sci-fi gallery and hand wavy dialogue explanations of how things are happening. The result is something a bit muddy and clunky, with the feature’s story ending more on a whimper than a razmataz bang. Plot points are overshadowed and left dangling, some ideas never are truly panned out correctly, twists are left moot and predictable, and the list goes on and on. True enough, tropes and cliches can be overlooked within a movie’s story, but everything else about the project needs to standout (setting, characters, action, visuals, etc.). Unfortunately, The Tomorrow War doesn’t and languishes within mediocrity. There is a lot of potential that the film’s story has, but none of it comes to fruition and instead chooses for something rather bland and redundant nuances that hinder the plot of the film rather than strengthening.

In conjunction with this idea, the film’s script is rather flat and thinly sketched out. Penned by Zach Dean, the feature’s script (like I mentioned) starts out strong with a clever futuristic sci-fi concept, but begins to falter slowly and ends up being woefully bland by the time the film reaches its climax. This goes back to the film being generic as I will continue to mention that because that’s what The Tomorrow War ultimately beings being…. a generic sci-fi movie. Dean’s script feels quite lazy and plays upon the commonly used sci-fi tropes for the feature’s main concept points, including story-built moments, character developments, and overall action staging sequences. The culmination of this ends up making the film rather flimsy, especially in the second half of the feature (roughly around 50 minutes into the movie), with the back half of The Tomorrow War playing out in a very formulaic and predictable way. What doesn’t help this concept is the actual dialogue written for the movie; finding many of the character dialogue-built moments / lines to be too wooden sounding, too broad, and a tad corny. Heck, even some of the film’s speech moments, which are supposed to be impactful, come off as mostly campy. Of course, I wasn’t expecting a sharp and Oscar-worthy script / dialogue, but I was expecting that was better handled and more snappy instead of something that seems like a throwaway TV movie on the Syfy channel.

What also aides in this criticism is the overall directing handling by McKay. While I did mention several of the positives a few paragraphs, the long and short of it is that McKay makes the feature rather clunky in large portion; finding The Tomorrow War feeling more like a TV movie rather than theatrical feature film. There just something about the film that never feels quite right, with McKay’s handling of the project feeling lackadaisical with not enough punch or finesse. From start to finish, the movie feels of a lower scale endeavor, and I find hard to believe that the film was going to have a theatrical release. In truth, this basically does feel like a movie for the streaming service, which can be a good and bad thing. For me, it’s kind of a bad thing. Besides one particular seeing where Dan and company first “jump” into the future, the rest of the movie falls flat and predictable, with McKay never making the feature truly stand out. In addition, McKay shapes the movie with some odd pacing, which (again) is shown in the latter half of the feature. In truth, that particular portion of the feature is rather mundane and sort of looses steam, propelling events forwarded in a very vanilla sci-fi manner with no really “oomph” to project. Also, the movie’s tone is off at particular moments, with some parts being really serious and grim, while other parts showcase comedic relief. It’s really strange and weird and doesn’t really mesh well with everything; generating a somewhat “off-putting” tone for the movie that never comes together. Perhaps the project was too overwhelming for him or maybe there were too many restrictions from the studio. Whatever the case, McKay needs a better handling on the movie and the final results clearly shows that.

The cast in The Tomorrow War is a bit of mixed bag, which does have a bit of fair amount of recognizable acting talents attached to the project. However, most of them give rather “broad” character moments that come across as either generic to the genre or thinly sketched. Headlining the movie is (of course) actor Chris Pratt in the protagonist character role of Dan Forester. Pratt, known for his roles in the MCU movies (Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol II, and Avengers: Infinity War) as well as other projects like Parks and Recreation, The LEGO Movie, and Magnificent Seven, has always been a very charismatic and well-liked actor, which comes through the various character roles he’s played in his career; slowly moving forward (recently) from a supporting player to a leading man. The Tomorrow War is one of those movies that is helmed (and designed) for the lead character and Pratt seems to relish in that opportunity, capable of seizing the moment whenever he’s on-screen with the necessary “star power” and gravitas. However, Pratt’s charismatic bravado (something that he’s known to play in his characters) isn’t present in The Tomorrow War, with actor playing a more stoic character that never really feels memorable. In truth, the Dan acts more of a generic action lead character, which is equipped with the standard family issues and tactical maneuvers. Nothing about the character stands out and Pratt’s performance clearly shows that; going through the motions with little to no pizzazz. In short, from all the various known characters he’s played in his career…. from Andy Dwyer, Peter Quill, Emmet Brickowski, Owen Grady, Jim Preston, and Josh Faraday, Pratt’s Dan Forester in The Tomorrow War is perhaps his weakest and most unmemorable character….and that’s a crying shame.

Behind Pratt, the other supporting character in the movie, who has the most screen time, would be the character of Colonel Forester, a tough and seasoned military veteran character from the future who has close ties to the character of Dan Forester and who is played by actress Yvonne Strahovski. Personally, I do like Strahovski, who is known for her roles in Dexter, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Predator. I think she’s a good actor and is capable of handling herself whenever on-screen. Heck, my personally favorite role from her was Miranda Lawson from the Mass Effect trilogy video game series. That being said, while I think that she was good in the movie, the character development for her character is rather clunky and mismanaged. It’s clear where the script and direction is going for with her character, but, much like the film itself, is delivered in a bland and derivate way. Strahovski does her best with what she’s been given, but she can’t elevate such a flimsy character. Thus, despite her attempts, Colonel Forester comes off as stock-like sci-fi character that feels wooden and predictable.

The sad part is that the rest of the cast are just as bland and woefully underdeveloped. This includes actor J.K. Simmons (Whiplash and Juno) as Dan’s estranged father James Forester, actress Betty Gilpin (The Hunt and Isn’t It Romantic) as Dan’s wife Emmy Forester, young actress Ryan Kiera Armstrong (American Horror Story and The Glorias) as Dan’s young daughter Muri Forester, actor Sam Richardson (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Office Christmas Party) as fellow draftee soldier friend to Dan named Charlie, and actor Edwin Hodge (The Purge: Election Year and Mayans M.C.) as seasoned soldier Dorian. All of these acting talents are genuinely good and have done solid work in their past endeavors. However, most of their involvement in The Tomorrow War is, more or less, generic and broken down into several archetype characteristics (i.e., concerned wife, distant father, sweet daughter, goofy sidekick, and gruff soldier). Thus, these characters are simply “cookie cutter” constructs and don’t exactly quite land properly; feeling to shallow, too tonal wrong for the picture, too formulaic, or just simply not enough….and that’s disappointing.

Rounding out the rest of the cast are actor Keith Powers (Before I Fall and Straight Outta Compton) as Major Greenwood, actress Mary Lynn Rajskub (24 and Night School) as Norah, actor Mike Mitchell (Parks and Recreation and The Birthday Boys) as Cowan, actor Jared Shaw (The Warfighters and The Terminal List) as Tank, actress Alexis Louder (Watchmen and The Originals) as Diablo, and Rose Bianco (Cobra Kai and Project Power) as Rose. These particular characters are, more or less, minor supporting players in the film and kind of fill that role. Nothing of them truly stand out much (character wise) I mean, but (again) they are minor supporting characters…. respecting background stock characters and that’s all. That being said, most of them are somewhat generic and portrayed in very broad strokes, which (to me at least) is bit problematic to a certain degree.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Trying to find his purpose in his current wayward life, Dan Forester finds opportunity in a futuristic war to save the world in the movie The Tomorrow War. Director Chris McKay latest film takes the whole time traveling premise and puts a new spin on it, delving into a sci-fi blockbuster endeavor of intense action and broad sentimentality within its main character. While the concept for the narrative is quite interesting and some nuances definitely work, the movie fails to deliver, especially within its choppy second half, derivate execution, familiar story beats, awkward comedy, bland characters, and a weak performance from its lead. Personally, I thought that this movie was disappointing. It definitely had a few moments and an interesting concept, but the overall execution of it all felt lackadaisical and unsatisfying. Plus, as I mentioned, this was probably one of Pratt’s weakest character roles. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a favorable “skip it” as the movie doesn’t offer a whole lot of entertainment value (well, maybe a little), with better offering for sci-fi action cinematics found elsewhere. Well, there is talks of a sequel being in the works, I’m very skeptical about its development and what exactly this “second chapter” will be about. In the end, The Tomorrow War is a misguided endeavor; promising with sci-action blockbuster flair with its opening that ultimately fizzles out by the reaches its end. This is one project that is rather bland and forgetful….and that’s disappointing.

2.5 Out of 5 (Skip It)

 

Released On: July 2nd, 2021
Reviewed On: September 6th, 2021

The Tomorrow War  is 138 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and some suggestive references