Friday, July 2, 2021

'The Tomorrow War': Live For Today

Quick: Who's the boring one?

If you aren't an Amazon Prime subscriber and can't watch The Tomorrow War, don't worry that you're missing much; you've likely seen something very similar--and better--before. It's Terminator, but with thousands of Sarah Connors. It's Aliens, but on Earth. It's The Thing, without the body snatching paranoia. It's Starship Troopers, without the satire. And that's just naming half of the films it "borrows" from. That said, it's ripping off from the best, and because of that it can't help but be, some of the time, exciting and entertaining. It's just that the most of the time, it's also really, really dumb.

It's set on a fictional Earth that learns humanity is doomed to die off completely in 50 years, unless soldiers - and eventually, civilians - travel in time to that future to help kill the alien hoards that are ravaging the planet. I say a "fictional Earth" because it presumes our present planet would be willing to sacrifice anything, let alone its own lives, to save the future. (Though I suppose it is kind of believable since it involves massive firearms and not, like, sacrificing personal luxuries to help fight the looming disasters of climate change.)

Chris Pratt, who's entire appeal seems to be centered on his ability to be earnest, funny, and ripped, is definitely that first thing through the majority of the film, and he gets to show off that third thing early on. But he's very rarely that second thing, making for a surprisingly dull hero. His Dan Forester, an Iraq War veteran who's stuck being a biology teacher when hopes for a prestigious researcher job fall through, has no distinctive personality aside from Devoted Husband and Loving Father, and that makes certain revelations about his future self less surprising than completely inexplicable.

His relative void as a character does allow some of the supporting players to shine though. I was pleasantly surprised to see Mary Lynn Rajskub pop up as a terrified but formidable civilian draftee. J.K. Simmons is a sight as Dan's grizzled, estranged father. And just a week ago, after seeing Werewolves Within, I was wishing Sam Richardson would get cast as the lead in more movies; there's no doubt The Tomorrow War would be a more entertaining movie with his nervous talking Georgie Tech professor leading the troops.

Still, The Tomorrow War is not without its moments. The aliens, dubbed "White Spikes" because of their ghostly pallor and natural defenses, have the same look that all aliens/monsters seem to have these days (Hollywood loves a three-flapped mouth filled with teeth), but the fights against them are at times genuinely thrilling. Screenwriter Zach Dean also does some interesting things with the time travel conceit, especially around the notion of how to draft an expendable army, but, like most time travel stories, there are also some huge plot holes that are never satisfactorily filled. Amazon Prime subscribers could do worse on a Friday night at home. But The Tomorrow War is not worth filling Jeff Bezo's pockets with more money if you aren't already doing so.