The Tomorrow War is a great big Frankenstein's monster of a movie. It's cobbled together from pieces of other science-fiction films, including War of the Worlds, Aliens, World War Z, Starship Troopers, and The Thing. Watching it provides an ongoing sense of deja vu because everything is so familiar. Despite a cool premise, this action-heavy epic proves far more disappointing than thrilling.
Around Christmas time, humans from the future interrupt a televised soccer game to make a shocking announcement. Earth is under alien attack in their time, and they need people to jump ahead several decades to aid in the fight. The government responds by instituting a draft. One of those called to service is Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), a family man/high school teacher who's grown frustrated with his career. He bids farewell to wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), then sets out for his week-long tour of duty.
That's when all the similarities to other sci-fi works begin. The creatures aren't visually distinct from those in similar movies, and they make the standard noise that sounds like a dinosaur roar mixed with a rattle. (I swear, there's only one sound effect for cinematic monsters.) Dan befriends a fellow soldier (Werewolves Within's Sam Richardson) with a penchant for wisecracks. The soldiers have to make their way into a city that's crawling with the enemy beings. If you guessed that the only way to destroy them is to locate their queen and eliminate her, you'd be exactly right. Unless I missed something, there's not a recognizable beat the movie fails to hit.
Cliches can be tolerable if a story offers some surprises. Approximately zero surprises exist in The Tomorrow War. This is the kind of movie where every significant development is telegraphed ahead of time. In the future, Dan encounters a brilliant scientist (Yvonne Strahavski) who is helping lead the charge. I'm leaving out an important detail about her, but you'll figure it out in advance. Earlier, the movie goes out of its way to establish that a student of Dan's is obsessed with volcanoes. Later on, knowledge about volcanoes just happens to become vital in defeating the aliens. And when Dan needs to sneak into Russian airspace, he's incredibly fortunate to have an estranged father (J.K. Simmons) with a plane and plenty of experience avoiding the government.
That quality makes the human side of the film fall flat. Try as it might, it's just too manipulative to generate a sincere emotional reaction. As for the action sequences, they're serviceable, although too many involve troops repeatedly firing assault rifles at alien creatures, which grows repetitive. Excessive CGI that's flooded with “digital haze” makes portions of the action look insufficiently real, lessening its impact. Still, those scenes are a welcome reprieve from the blander character-based material. Director Chris McKay (The LEGO Batman Movie) creates one or two quality jump scares. A scene where Dan and crew are dropped from the air into a skyscraper's rooftop swimming pool – with some folks not hitting the water – is tense, as well.
The Tomorrow War gets more ridiculous the longer it goes on. Even if there are intermittently amusing bits, the machinations of the screenplay are too visible. You can feel the movie working to achieve an effect similar to the pictures that inspired it (and wasting Betty Gilpin in the thankless Worried Wife Back Home role, to boot). Clearly, the picture wants to be a modern thrill-a-minute epic. Writer Zach Dean lacks enough ideas of his own, though. The movie is a compendium of influences in search of a fresh angle.
out of four
The Tomorrow War is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and some suggestive references.. The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.