“The Tomorrow War”
Photo | Amazon Studios
Chris Pratt was always an unlikely hero, buffing up from a loveable schlub on television’s “Parks and Recreation” to becoming the wise-cracking Star-Lord in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With enough humor in his starring roles, his appeal works. However, in his new sci-fi action vehicle “The Tomorrow War,” his heroism is more unlikely than ever. As in, it’s completely unlikely. And not believable or affecting either.
One of the more interesting aspects of “The Tomorrow War” is it describes a series of circumstances in which all we have left to save humanity are unlikely heroes, nonexperts and generally unskilled soldiers in a war that takes place in the future. A team of soldiers travels back in time, to 2021, to tell us that in 30 years, Earth is on the brink of losing a very big war with a bunch of aliens. In the future, the population is so decimated that bringing people to the future to fight is our only option. Also, we learned how to travel through time, but everyone is too upset about the aliens to feel excited about that.
Before his world was rocked by this alien thing, Pratt was a disappointed science teacher who wanted to work in a lab but couldn’t get a job doing that. Of course, the dire need for people to go to the future and fight aliens means the actual army was wiped out pretty quickly, and a big draft of older people is instituted to conscript people to fight the aliens. The idea is older, parental types are morally obligated to fight for their kids’ futures. This is just one in a series of overarching climate change metaphors. It’s actually kind of a cool and scary idea for a movie.
The most frightening aspect of “The Tomorrow War” was how slipshod the preparations for launching people into the future were. It looked like a very thrown-together plan. Now that we have collectively experienced the capacity for catastrophe and inversely impressive response, it’s also pretty realistic. So all the semi-trained middle-aged people are dropped into the future where they must fight aliens for one week then return to their normal lives, although, of course, most don’t get the chance.
This unnecessarily long movie is very segmented and disjointed — there’s an alien part, a fire part, a snow part — and the first encounter with the aliens is the least effective. It resembles nothing so much as a first-person shooter video game, specifically one being played for the very first time by someone who doesn’t know how. Does it make me sound old and unreasonable to say it was also horrendously loud? Yes, it does. It was a barrage of machine-gun misfires, splattering all over a blithely unharmed herd of marauding aliens, who look like a pastiche of other digital monsters.
After a noisy, inexplicable action sequence, Pratt and a few others are rescued and brought to a more secure area where he meets an important person from his past, which is actually his present, in the future. Yvonne Strahovski (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) plays Vicki Winslow, a competent, fatalistically serene scientist who successfully provides a ton of exposition and, less successfully, introduces some emotion to the story. Here is where our boy Pratt falls especially short.
An attempt to integrate gravitas and drama into a noisy sci-fi action film did not work for me. Pratt tries to look serious, sad or thoughtful, and I just don’t believe him. Untrained civilians are bad at killing powerful aliens with machine guns while disoriented from time travel, and Pratt is bad at acting. Amusing irony is his thing; he has no range. He has a voiceover at the end that is particularly offensive. The highlight for me was witnessing him totally outclassed by J.K. Simmons, who plays his estranged, incredibly jacked father. The discrepancies in the quality of their performances unintentionally echoed their dysfunctional relationship, a nuance never approached in any other aspect of the film.
This is a serviceable but unremarkable action spectacle. Chris McKay, who has an animation background, directed, and his “The Lego Batman Movie” was a better kids’ movie than “The Tomorrow War” is an action movie. This is not my favorite genre of film, but some of these kinds of movies are surprisingly great. This one is expectedly average.
“The Tomorrow War” is streaming on Amazon Prime.
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