The Tomorrow War is definitely a big-screen movie. However, thanks to COVID-19 and Amazon’s deep pockets, the film got moved over to Bezos’ streaming service to premiere as a Prime Original film and hopefully kick off a new franchise for the platform. The company reportedly paid Paramount around $200 million for the film in hopes of bringing the kind of big-name action that Netflix has been delivering recently to its platform. That’s a lot of money to shell out (though, Paramount still took a bath on it) for a movie, even one that stars one of the bigger stars in Hollywood in Chris Pratt.
For Amazon, this should be a film that pulls in audiences and attracts a lot of word of mouth. Yet, it seems to be neither. With theaters re-opening, Netflix pulling in far bigger names for its action films, and massive franchises finally releasing long-delayed installments, The Tomorrow War now feels like an also-ran with nothing more than made-for-streaming aspirations. It also doesn’t help that it’s not a very good movie.
The Tomorrow War
Director: Chris McKay
Release Date: July 2, 2021 (Amazon)
The Tomorrow War, honestly, has a really incredible premise that deserves more than what the film turns out to be. A battalion of soldiers appears from the future informing the world that, in the near future, an alien race has nearly wiped out all of humanity. According to them, the only hope to save humanity is for the people of the past to come into the future and help fight the war. However, there is a limitation on who can come and so civilians start getting recruited. Enter Veteran and family man, Dan Forester (Pratt), who is thrown into the future alongside a collection of other civilians and set to task fighting the mysterious aliens.
That’s a really cool premise, right? There’s so much to explore there and for the first half of the film, The Tomorrow War does a decent job of doing it. After an accident during the time jump, Dan and the rest of the survivors are flung into survival mode when they have to quickly recover some scientific research for Romeo Command (Yvonne Strahovski) in an area of Miami crawling with aliens. This opening sequence shows promise, with a tense, horror-like sequence establishing a fantastic world. From that point, there are plotline twists and turns that really feel interesting and, while often cliche, the relationships, and characters work. It really does feel like a compelling action film that’s smart enough to play with science fiction in clever ways. Even the monsters are pretty well designed, with a look like Necromorphs from Dead Space and Predators.
Then it all just falls apart. The film looks generic from the get-go despite its premise but after the first half, it becomes entirely so. The Tomorrow War completely abandons its plot to turn into one of those action movies where only a certain set of people can save the world… despite that being totally ludicrous. The second half of the film lynches on a bit of a plot twist, so I won’t talk in too much detail, but suffice to say that Dan’s father, James Forester (J.K. Simmons), plays an integral part in saving the future. That should tell you all you need to know about how much the storyline collapses in the end. It really is a tale of two films and the conclusion is so groan-inducingly bad that it soils the first half of the film entirely.
This is director Chris McKay’s first live-action film after cutting his teeth on Robot Chicken and knocking it out of the park with The LEGO Batman Movie. McKay seems to have a lot to learn about live-action as the story completely gets away from him, with cause and effect becoming incredibly muddled (even more than a time travel movie should be). It isn’t entirely his fault, though, as the screenplay simply loses all weight with illogical jumps and multiple time travel contradictions. Time travel is often a bit wibbly-wobbly unless a film sticks to its own rules, but The Tomorrow War doesn’t, forcing emotional moments that make no sense and breaking the rules in favor of advancing the plot.
Nothing in the latter half of the film works. McKay doesn’t even seem to care about that part of the film. The action, including the aforementioned horror scene above, is pretty spot-on for the first half of the film but after a climatic midway sequence full of stellar visuals and concepts, the movie just stops dead. The film’s finale is a mess of bad editing and poorly-paced action. It’s as if an entirely different person came in and made it. Not even Pratt’s affable charm, which seems mostly missing here, or Strahovski’s ability to play straight man to anything, can make it work.
Sadly, The Tomorrow War turns out to be all concept and no execution. While the film gives hope of something interesting for a decent chunk of time, its devolution in lower-than-bog-standard action fare retroactively makes the entire film suck. By the end of the film, the only thing that even seems remotely interesting anymore is why J.K. Simmons is so jacked. There’s a really good science fiction world buried under the latter half of The Tomorrow War but it’s nearly impossible to dig out.