Technically Proficient Tomorrow War a Mechanically Forgettable Waste of Time
Humanity is on the verge of extinction. It is 2051, and a vicious alien race, known only as “white spikes,” are coming close to becoming the dominant species, killing every form of life they encounter. While the remaining humans have come together to defend themselves, they are still on the cusp of losing this war. All hope appears to have been eradicated.
But maybe not…
After soldiers magically appear on the field in the middle of a 2021 World Cup soccer match, it appears future generations aren’t quite ready to throw in the towel. They’ve gone back in time to urge their ancestors to travel to 2051 to help fight for Earth’s survival. It’s a last-gasp effort to turn the tide of war in humanity’s favor, and even this may not be enough to stop the white spikes from their single-minded pursuit of total annihilation.
The Tomorrow War is undeniably expensive, and every penny appears to be up there on the screen. I appreciate that director Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie) and writer Zach Dean (Deadfall) are attempting to tell an original story that isn’t a part of some long-running franchise or a reboot of a past favorite. This is an ambitious science fiction-action spectacle that wears its heart on its sleeve and takes a lot of very big swings, all of which I’d like to enthusiastically support.
Frustratingly, that’s not how things work out. This is a massive misfire that I unfortunately never connected with on an emotional level. I found there to be precious few thrills. Almost none of the suspenseful bits gave me anything resembling a chill. It all came across like a mechanical rollercoaster ride that’s competently constructed yet with shockingly little imagination. At 140 minutes, sitting through it all to the very end was far more difficult than by all accounts it should have been.
The human angle revolves around decorated former Iraq war veteran current high school science teacher Dan Forester, portrayed by Christ Pratt with the same sort of goofy machismo he brings to his Guardians of the Galaxy adventures. He’s drafted to go into the future to fight by a woman (Yvonne Strahovski) who knows him better than he knows himself, but her reasons for doing so are not nearly as surprising as I imagine they were supposed to be.
I do like that McKay and Dean tell a self-contained story. While there are plenty of ways a sequel could be spun out of this, that the filmmakers don’t drop a post-credits scene hinting at additional loose ends or sprinkle intimations as to what might happen next is refreshing.
What I didn’t care for was how manufactured and facile so many of the internal plot mechanics are. It was almost as if Dean watched Paul Verhoeven’s darkly satirical take on Starship Troopers and wondered what would happen if he wrote a similar scenario, but with a time travel twist played perfectly straight. There is a disastrously leaden didacticism affecting the majority of the narrative components, and I almost began to wish Forester would fail in his mission and humanity would meet a grisly end.
The talented Betty Gilpin is stranded with a nothing role as Forester’s wife Emmy, while Mary Lynn Rajskub pops up in an even more thankless part as one of the 2021 citizens drafted to fight in 2051. Sam Richardson gets a bit more to do as another scientist-turned-soldier, but even he doesn’t make a long-lasting impression. The same can also be said about J.K. Simmons and Edwin Hodge, who both deserve far better than what Dean’s screenplay offers up.
McKay directs confidently enough, and most of the action scenes fluidly shot by cinematographer Larry Fong (Kong: Skull Island) and are crisply cut together by editors Roger Barton (World War Z) and Garret Elkins (Anomalisa). The creature design for the white spikes is also solid; the carnivorous monsters suitably threatening.
But there’s no heart to any of this, no soul hidden underneath the film’s skin. It comes across like an expensive puzzle assembled in a corporate board room utilizing statistical analyses and complex spreadsheets asserting to know what audiences will find most appealing — even though that’s not even close to being the case. There isn’t an honest human emotion to be found, and authenticity is in short supply.
Considering that the core of all this revolves around the relationship between parent and child, this is a gigantic roadblock not even McKay’s efficiently staged action sequences can overcome. The Tomorrow War is as forgettable as it is disappointing, and if I had my druthers and could go back in time, I’d ask the filmmakers to start over from scratch and populate their story with interesting three-dimensional characters I could actually care about.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)