‘The Tomorrow War’ Review: Chris Pratt Goes Back to the Future to Lead a Battle Against Aliens

As a high-school science teacher drafted into battle, Chris Pratt tries to save the world and heal his family bonds, not necessarily in that order.

The Tomorrow War
Courtesy of Amazon

The Tomorrow War” is a big, dumb, sometimes tedious, sometimes fun civilization-vs.-aliens showdown that sends a bunch of ordinary people through a wormhole into the future to save the human race. The creatures they’re fighting are odd-looking beasts. Imagine the big-jawed monsters from the “Alien” films crossed with Velociraptors crossed with rapidly galloping chickens, with skin that looks like it’s been rolled in egg wash and dipped in white flower. They’re all limbs, tentacles, teeth, haunches, and lightning movement — and, in the end, not that different from the monsters in the “Quiet Place” films. “The Tomorrow War” could have been called “A Noisy, Frantically Derivative Place.” It’s an alien-combat time-warp movie that makes you long for the nuance of “Starship Troopers.” Much of it is flat-out cheesy (and at 2 hours and 18 minutes, it’s too much of a mediocre thing), but as a film that was originally set to be released by Paramount, and is now an Amazon digital release, it feels right at home as an age-of-Netflix look-this-is-just-like-the-junk-you-could-see-in-a-theater film. It’s the definition of rousingly adequate.

Chris Pratt, likable as he can be, is basically a bulked-up puppy dog, and “The Tomorrow War” is one of those Chris Pratt movies that taps into his slightly moist regular-guy earnest gumption. It opens with fragmented images of a dystopian war, replete with towering infernos and a dramatic overhead shot of Pratt dropping out of the sky into a hotel-roof swimming pool. The film then flashes back 28 years to a Spielbergian suburb, where Pratt’s Dan Forester is a high-school biology teacher who can’t catch a career break, as well as the daddy to an 8-year-old science wiz named Muri (Ryan Keira Armstrong). He’s in the middle of a boisterous Christmas party at his home, watching a world soccer match on TV, when something otherworldly happens: A purple electromagnetic cloud appears in the middle of the field, and out of the cloud emerges a space-age S.W.A.T. team. Their leader (Jasmine Mathews) speaks to the crowd. “We are you,” she says, “thirty years in the future.” In just 11 months, she says that all human beings will be wiped from the face of the earth “unless you help us.”

“The Tomorrow War” is about an alien battle to the death, fought in the year 2051, for which the citizens of earth today have to sacrifice themselves. The first international draft is established, with each tour of duty lasting just seven days. But most of those who “jump” forward into the war will not return. The survival rate is less than 20 percent — it’s the future as meat grinder. They’re facing a race of creatures known as white spikes, who sound like an alien rock band but appear to be unstoppable.

Dan served two tours of duty in Iraq, so he’s more equipped for this battle than most. When he arrives, having gotten to know such fellow soldiers as the engagingly hyperrational chatterbox Charlie (Sam Richardson) and the surly veteran Dorian (Edwin Hodge), he leads the unit on a rescue mission, skulking through the remains of a building flooded with brackish green light. The white spikes come out of the crannies, moving with a sinister speed that evokes some of the creatures animated 60 years ago by Ray Harryhausen. The monsters, it turns out, can be killed if you pelt them with enough machine-gun fire and hit them in just the right place. (Decapitation works.) But there are simply too many of them; they’re an endless army.

Dan is taking his orders from a commander (Yvonne Strahovski) who seems familiar to him, and it’s not long before the film reveals why: She’s his daughter, Muri, all grown up. (Not a spoiler; it’s really the premise.) You’d think that might be a net positive, but she’s coldly methodical with him — due to the extremity of the calamity they’re facing, but also because of what she went through during her teenage years. “The Tomorrow War” is a movie about saving the world and healing your family bonds, not necessarily in that order. Pratt and Strahovski have a lively chemistry, though there’s a deadly section in the middle where the movie gives itself over to a different kind of chemistry: Muri’s science-lab investigation into why the toxin that kills the male white spikes won’t work on the powerful queen mother. At this point, I felt sleepier than Dan’s students looked in biology class.

J.K. Simmons, in a beard that cushions his edge, is on hand as Dan’s estranged father, a paranoid underground techie; the two are barely speaking, but by the end their fractured bond, too, will be called upon to play its part. There are unintentionally funny moments in “The Tomorrow War” (like the out-of-the-blue way that Muri discovers the toxin formula she’s searching for), but the kitschiest thing about the movie may simply be that it’s such a vacuum cleaner of sci-fi blockbuster tropes: aliens, climate change, going back to the future to tweak the course of humanity, “Interstellar” father-daughter hugs across time. It’s a lot of deluxe pablum you’ve seen before, but all you can eat of it.

‘The Tomorrow War’ Review: Chris Pratt Goes Back to the Future to Lead a Battle Against Aliens

Reviewed online, June 30, 2021. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 138 MIN.

  • Production: An Amazon release of a Skydance, Paramount production. Producers: David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger, Jules Daly, David Goyer, Adam Kolbrenner. Executive producers: Rob Cowan, Chris Pratt, Brian Oliver, Bradley J. Fischer.
  • Crew: Director: Chris McKay. Screenplay: Zach Dean. Camera: Larry Fong. Editors: Roger Barton, Garret Elkins. Music: Lorne Balfe.
  • With: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons, Betty Gilpin, Sam Richardson, Edwin Hodge, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Mike Mitchell, Alexis Louder.