Chris McKay, director of such comedies as The Lego Batman Movie and many episodes of “Robot Chicken,” took the live action route with this science fiction bundle of nonsensical gibberish, and I keep asking myself why? Why, of all the screenplays floating around out there in the Holly-world, did he choose this one? It’s a daunting task for a first-time (live action) director to tackle such a heady topic like time travel, much less to pull it off. The Tomorrow War certainly does not “pull it off.” Instead it just “pulls it until it breaks.”
The film starts off with the star and executive producer Chris Pratt flailing through the air, lights and wind swirling around him, finally landing in a skyscraper’s roof swimming pool. We’re obviously not in Kansas anymore. A title card reads “X hours earlier” (the number I forgot, but it really doesn’t matter) and cuts to ex-military high school science teacher Dan Forester (Pratt) watching a soccer match (presumably the World Cup) with his many friends and very close wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and daughter Muri (an adorable Ryan Kiera Armstrong). Dan Forester had just received disheartening news and little Muri lends a few wise and comforting words that everything will be okay. That’s only the second cliché, as it leads to a bright flashing light on the soccer field with dozens of soldiers appearing onto the field from a random poof of the pixie dust colors seen earlier.
“We are you 30 years in the future,” one of them says as she motions a “calm down” signal with her hand. Oh yes, that will surely make me feel just right as rain after seeing people with guns appear in the middle of a soccer field from a celestial fart. According to these time travelers, 30 years into the future the Earth will be under attack from extraterrestrial beings and humankind is losing. Therefore they’ve come back in time via a conveniently “gum and chickenwire” portal to recruit and draft soldiers — let me rephrase, victims — from the past to fight a war that these strangers claim is happening now. Or then. Or in the future. What time is it again? “Loki” made this time thing seem easy.
Naturally, the world’s nations take their word for it without question and unite for a worldwide draft. A draft that, funny enough, features only American citizens in the film despite numerous shots of countries’ flags flying together. Forester gets a cellphone alert in the middle of his class’s discussion of volcanoes (put a pin there) and why things are important any more if we’re all going to die. I say, good question kid! The notification on the phone is an automated draft that he’s called to answer, and at a government facility he’s physically and painfully fastened with a covering over his left forearm that is proof he has been drafted and if he flees, then jail time. Bidding his family an overlong, self-aware inspiration-speech farewell and checks in at basic training. Well, that basic training doesn’t allow you to know anything about your enemy (which, by the way, looks like a pissed off Mewtwo from Pokemon): weaknesses, strengths, history, what they look like, favorite color, etc. The given logic is that it would “deter people from fighting.” Last I heard this was a draft? Anyways, about a day of gun training and introductions to a handful of annoying and unnecessary characters later, they’re beamed up into the future on a red alert.
Back to the rooftop pool we go, and here’s where I can allow myself to skip about an hour or so of the film. More annoying speeches, one liners that would make Schwartzenegger roll his eyes, and loads of alien/creature gore abound. He comes across a beautiful blonde scientist/colonel (Yvonne Strahovski) who turns out to be little Muri all grown up and in military power positions (yes, multiple). Father Forester and Grown Muri have the inevitable daddy-daughter fights every other scene, and their chemistry doesn’t even try to seem familial. It almost feels as if two old buddies are just duking it out on their off times to compensate for a better time filler.
Her science expertise leads her to a synthetic toxin of sorts that, again we’re not given enough information, can eradicate the entire alien species. Of course she sends him back to the current year of 2022. That’s when things get completely off the rails, and when I say off the rails, we’re talking beyond Crazy Train. They must find where the aliens land (or in this case thaw), blow them up with the help of an understated conspiracy theorist dad played by J.K. Simmons. This last third of the film rips apart any originality left in its bone marrow by taking parts of The Thing, the Alien franchise, Battle: Los Angles, and let’s not forget the mega hit that this wanted to be, Edge of Tomorrow.
Screenwriter Zach Dean wrote two feature films before this: Deadfall in 2012 and 24 Hours to Live in 2017. I never had the chance to view 24 Hours to Live but I did have the pleasure (yes pleasure) of seeing Deadfall. It was truly a compelling thriller featuring an all-star cast of Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Charlie Hunnam, and Sissy Spacek. I truly want to believe this film was Zach Dean’s fault. I don’t mean that entirely offensively. His first screenplay was Deadfall and I was hook from the opening shot. I do believe this is proof that Mr. Dean cannot write science fiction to save his life, and Chris McKay made the tragic mistake of choosing this as his live action directorial debut. The Paramount film had a reported budget of $200,000,000 and was scheduled to release in theaters pre-COVID, but then when the pandemic hit, Amazon bought it for exclusive streaming rights. You could blame it on COVID, sure. Actually, no you can’t. Many films set to release before the pandemic used the extra time for edits, cuts, reshoots, and anything else needed through extra time. This film was not that. Paramount sold it like a hot potato, almost knowing it would turn into an instant box office bomb. Or maybe that’s just my take. I don’t work for Amazon, nor do I for Paramount. Who knows why this was even green lit? Either way, leave this in Walmart’s discount DVD bin and then maybe, just maybe I’d consider it passable. Until that moment comes, the future me told me to never watch it again.
JD Stars: * out of ****