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Review: Despite Some Strong Performances, 'The Tomorrow War' is a Waste of Time

by Megan Kearns
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jul 1, 2021
'The Tomorrow War'
'The Tomorrow War'  (Source:Amazon / Prime Video)

As someone who loves sci-fi and time-travel movies, I wish I could say I enjoyed "The Tomorrow War." Sadly, I did not.

Starring Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons, and Sam Richardson, the disappointing time travel film is directed by Chris McKay ("The Lego Batman Movie") in his live-action directorial debut. Soldiers from the future — the year 2051 — arrive to recruit soldiers in the present to leap to the future to fight a war the world is losing against a nearly unstoppable alien species. The premise shares similarities with "The Terminator."

"The Tomorrow War" is plagued by bad writing. Dialogue clearly intended to be sentimental or inspirational feels saccharine and hollow. The film weakens from illogical time travel and paradox explanations, painfully obvious foreshadowing, and lacking visual effects. Although the creature design intrigues.

Dan (Chris Pratt) is a veteran who led combat missions in Iraq and worked in scientific research. Now, he's a high school biology teacher happily married to Emmy (Betty Gilpin), and they have a daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). He's estranged from his father (J.K. Simmons), a Vietnam veteran who abandoned him in childhood.

After the soldiers from the future appear, the government enacts a global draft. Dan is conscripted and implanted with an arm device enabling him to travel to and from the future. A tour of duty is seven days. As recruits prepare, someone from the Department of Defense calls everyone heroes, saying they "answered the call," ignoring that people were coerced into becoming soldiers — threatened with imprisonment if they attempted to evade duty or tried to remove the device.

When they arrive in the future, Dan and his team — including Charlie (Sam Richardson), a scientist providing comic relief, and Dorian (Edwin Hodge), a cynical vet on a return tour to the future — receive orders from a scientist colonel (Yvonne Strahovski) to rescue her lab research team from aliens and retrieve research samples. A potentially tense scene of evading aliens in a stairwell feels tepid.

After the mission, Dan is redeployed to work with the Colonel. Together, they research a toxin to kill the aliens — called White Spikes, due to projectile-shooting tentacles — by studying the rare female creatures. The Colonel intends for Dan to take the toxin back to the present and prevent the war altogether.

"The Tomorrow War" suffers from bad acting, mostly from Chris Pratt. He's adequate at comedy, but mediocre in dramatic roles. However, Yvonne Strahovski (chilling in "The Handmaid's Tale"), Sam Richardson (fantastic in "Werewolves Within"), J.K. Simmons (always wonderful), and Betty Gilpin (outstanding in "The Hunt") are all great here, albeit underutilized.

If you're had telling a global story through one person's perspective, you better create a truly compelling character. It would be nice if that character weren't automatically a cis, straight, white man. While the cast is partially diverse in race and gender (although there are no queer characters), everyone orbits Dan with little or zero backstory or agency of their own. The film touts themes of heroism and parent-child relationships, but doesn't really have anything interesting to say. Emmy runs a PTSD group for veterans of the future war, which could have been fascinating to explore but doesn't go anywhere, becoming a wasted opportunity.

"The Tomorrow War" feels like propaganda for the military-industrial complex. Despite the characters' supposed reverence of scientists, an undercurrent of arrogance emerges that suggests the belief that collaboration, cooperation, and discourse won't save lives — rather, individual brute force is the solution. Unfortunately, I found the film a frustrating waste of time.

"The Tomorrow War" streams on Amazon Prime Video starting July 2, 2021.

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