This review contains spoilers
A few weeks back, Chris Pratt’s Instagram story promised me that The Tomorrow War was going to be my new favorite movie of all time. Now obviously I didn’t really believe him. But given Pratt’s charm, a competent director, and the $200 million price tag, I at least expected a fun Independence Day-esque popcorn flick. Instead, The Tomorrow War is a bland and uneven sci-fi bust.
Boiled down, The Tomorrow War is a time travel movie. 30ish years in the future, Earth is badly losing a war to alien invaders. The future humans’ plan: draft soldiers from the past and–through some barely-explained technolgoy–bring them to the future to fight their war. It’s an interesting concept and the film’s explanation of how they select draftees is actually pretty clever. The only people sent back in time are ones who haven’t been born yet, and the only ones sent to the future are ones who are already dead by then. It’s a pretty clever way to avoid certain time-travel paradoxes and sets up a promising mystery of how Pratt’s character meets an untimely fate.
But that’s about as far as the sensible logic goes. The movie makes it pretty clear that soldiers from the future can come back to the present, a time well before the alien war has started. Yet none of these soldiers seem to have any intention on preventing the war. You know, the most obvious and probably the easiest solution. I wanted to give the movie the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they’ve already tried that, maybe there’s a weird butterfly effect, or maybe the screenwriter just didn’t want to drive through Terminator territory. But no, eventually it’s revealed that bringing an alien poison back to the present day is the secret grand plan after all!
Still, decent action movies can overcome dumb plot logic through interesting character development. The audience learns pretty quickly that Pratt’s family-man character has a strained relationship with his own absent father, a mistake he’s determined not to make. Once he makes the jump to the future, he meets his now adult daughter who informs him that he eventually leaves his wife and daughter, causing another rift in the family. Add in the fact that his character soon dies in his natural timeline, and you’ve got a pretty compelling character-driven drama.
Unfortunately this, the most interesting aspect of the movie, is almost immediately dismissed. As soon as it’s set up, we learn that it was a car accident that kills him. The reasons for leaving his family go unanswered. And his relationship with his father is repaired by teaming up to kick some alien ass. It’s a ton of potential completely undermined by quick, convenient, and incomplete storytelling.
The movie does get a few things right. Chris Pratt continues to show that he has what it takes to be a leading man and grow beyond his goofball persona. The supporting cast makes the most of what they’re given, particularly J.K. Simmons as the estranged father and Sam Richardson as maybe the only one with a complete character arc. And the action is solid, especially in the third act. It’s a shame this big-budget movie was relegated to the small-screen. Sometimes dumb movies are just more fun and forgvable when seen in a loud, crowded theater.
The Tomorrow War is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.