The Tomorrow War (2021)
I think with The Tomorrow War the major movie studios may have figured out what to do with their major event films. Even before the pandemic most of them were losing money, at least in the United States as many Hollywood studios decided that their home country didn't matter as much as China. But, even with China's audiences seeming to enjoy things that go boom with a lot of pretty lights and, often, the Rock, it wasn't like that market was helping to save the summer blockbuster season either.
Throughout 2020 studios tried to figure out what to do with the films they had made or had almost finished. Many have been delayed for theatrical release, while a number of others either got streamed on the various platforms the parent companies of the studios own or, in the case of Disney, occasionally gambling that someone will pay $30.00 for something they can see as part of the package they already pay for if they're just patient. It hasn't helped that most of those movies have been the live-action remakes of their cartoons and are barely worth paying a couple bucks to see in the bargain theater, much less $30.00 unless there are enough people watching to make it worth the expense.
With The Tomorrow War Paramount decided to go another route entirely. A ton of money went into this but, instead of sitting around waiting for theaters to reopen or putting it on their own streaming service, they decided to make most of their money back by just selling it to Amazon. That means Paramount did not have to do the promotion or anything else other than put up the money to make it. They flip the film, Amazon promotes the heck out of it and it gets released on a streaming platform that millions of people have for no extra charge. The trade-off may be that there is not a huge profit margin, but more important is that the movie, which really is about as silly and uncomplicated as a science fiction movie can be, reaches a bigger audience than it would have in the theater. It's not one of those times where one wishes they had the two hours and 20 minutes of their life back, but it's also not the first thing most people would think of seeing for their first trip back to the movies, especially since the timing of its release would have put it in competition with Black Widow.
Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) is an Iraq War veteran who has spent his civilian life working in various scientific fields. Shortly before Christmas of 2022 a number of soldiers from the year 2051 come through a time portal and announce that they are fighting an alien invasion that has reduced Earth's population to 500,000 people. They are losing and the only way they may have a chance is by enlisting the help of people from the past. Initially it is the world's militaries that volunteer, but they are quickly overrun, so a world draft of civilians is instituted.
Much to the concern of his wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) Dan is drafted and, though he initially tries to get out of it with the help of his estranged father James (J. K. Simmons), he decides to do his duty. He is assigned with a group of others that have some military and science experience to protect a lab in Miami, but they arrive to find it overrun. As things get worse Dan finds out that the person in charge of what remains of the campaign is his daughter Muri (Yvonne Strahovski), who is working on a toxin that would destroy the invading creatures, called "White Spikes" for the biological weapons they shoot from their tentacles. By sending the toxin back to the past there is hope that the future may be changed.
Unlike recent films like Tenet there is no attempt to get too wound up in different time lines and theories in order to make the movie seem like more than it actually is. Early on my wife commented that if they kept sending people from the past forward there wouldn't be anyone for the invaders to kill, which was nicely solved by the fact that everyone drafted is known to have died before the White Spikes appeared in 2048. Also, the technology used for jumping through time is between two fixed points which are themselves moving forward in real time. This precludes going back to the beginning of the invasion to stop it. Besides that bit of information, largely there to keep everyone from screaming "Plot hole!" before the movie even gets going, the whole time travel idea doesn't get worried about complicated nitpicking.
Which is good since writer Zach Dean and director Chris McKay obviously intended for this to be an action movie, with emphasis on ugly looking creatures and pyrotechnics, rather than getting bogged down in the science of it all. While I find that any scenes that require Forester to be with his family in 2022 are cringeworthy - and the editing noticeably horrible when not involved in the actual action set pieces - the movie succeeds once the drop into 2051 happens. It also largely cooks up a good finale to the whole thing as well even if some of the cheesy family dynamics, as well as a horrible ending piece of dialog, interfere a bit. The good thing is that the events of 2051 and the attempts to prevent it are what is focused on. I have seen some comparison to World War Z, which is valid, but The Tomorrow War has much less of the annoyance if dealing with the kid. In contrast some of the scenes between Forester and his grown-up daughter are well-done.
The White Spikes themselves are done well except in times when they appear in large numbers. At those points, which unfortunately include a couple critical points in the movie, the effects look unfinished or that someone just got lazy and copy-pasted monsters everywhere. Individually they look decent, but when overrunning a facility it does look as bad as the scene at the walls surrounding Jerusalem in World War Z.
Chris Pratt is dependable, but he still kind of looks like a big goof in about every role he plays. It's supposed to be much more serious here, and he does pull it off when need be, but he still looks like he's about to burst into a dance routine or start cracking wise. If the character of Dan Forester had more to it than Pratt playing a role that might be different, but we only see brief appearances of anything that makes Forester interesting. The rest of the cast, except for Yvonne Strahovski and J. K. Simmons, are there either to have someone to do the usual self-sacrifice or to provide some comic relief. Unfortunately the jokes in this typically fall flat.
The Tomorrow War still ended up being a lot more entertaining than I thought it would be. It has a lot of elements sewn together from other films that gives it a warm, safe kind of predictability, and it feels in places like it wants to be a Michael Bay film. It's light entertainment, but the situation right now is that light entertainment is probably what this country needs, even if it comes with a fair amount of hamfisted messaging about family and protecting the environment. At least it never pretends to be anything that it isn't.
The Tomorrow War (2021)
Time: 138 minutes
Starring: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J. K. Simmons, Betty Gilpin, Sam Richardson
Director: Chris McKay