Ever since his star-making turn in Guardians of the Galaxy, Chris Pratt has starred in some of the biggest blockbusters in history, with his work in both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Jurassic World franchise setting a number of box-office records. His latest film, The Tomorrow War, was originally slated for a theatrical release last December, only for Amazon Studios to acquire the project as an exclusive streaming title. Sadly, the most that The Tomorrow War has to offer is being a somewhat entertaining sci-fi spectacle that is barely successful as a fun and schlocky ride, though as a streaming title, it feels far too similar to the many more accomplished sci-fi blockbusters that came before it, resulting in a stagnant and unoriginal slog that will make you wish you spent your time more wisely.
Opening in the present day, the world is shocked when a group of soldiers from 30 years into the future appear to alert civilization about a monstrous invasion that threatens the entire human race, resulting in the recruitment of as many present-day citizens as possible to jump to the future to take on the threat. Rather than being elite warriors, unlikely armies made of teachers, scientists, and other underprepared civilians stand as the only way the present or the future has any hopes of surviving the invasion.
At its core, the concept of The Tomorrow War requires heaping helpings of the suspension of disbelief, as it blends together key components of more beloved and successful sci-fi blockbusters from over the years. With some sci-fi films, such blatant nods to more well-known films could be seen as tributes to the staples that came before it, yet, in this instance, it merely feels like a case of the project being pitched as "X meets Y plus Z," and the picture got a green light. Specifically, the entire narrative trajectory comes across less as an homage and more as a derivation of The Terminator, Starship Troopers, and Edge of Tomorrow. While these films weren't massive hits at the time of their release, they have since gone on to earn passionate followings, with any sci-fi fans sure to see the components of those films that were "borrowed" for The Tomorrow War. The plumbing of the film, if you will, is so blatant, it's hard to let go of the fact that you feel like you're watching a straight-to-video knockoff from the '90s.
The Tomorrow War is absolutely derivative of much better blockbusters, but the cast just barely manages to keep you invested in the experience. Chris Pratt does his best "Chris Pratt starring in an action movie," which we've seen plenty of times over the years, with the supporting cast instead being the standouts. Pratt isn't bad in the role by any means, it just feels like such a standard archetype for such a film, there's little freshness he can bring to it. Instead, figures like J.K. Simmons, Sam Richardson, and Mary Lynn Rajskub and their comedic sensibilities steal nearly every scene in which they appear. Yvonne Strahovski, who fans know as Serena on The Handmaid's Tale, makes a strong showing in the adventure, leading us to hope she gets more leading roles in genre films going forward. Similarly, Betty Gilpin only appears in a handful of scenes but is a delight in each one, with audiences surely regretting that she didn't get to showcase her talents with a more significant role.
From a narrative standpoint, the film makes little to no sense. Part of the reason we rarely get time-travel movies that resonate strongly with audiences is due to the challenge of working out the logic of how such stories work, with it typically being the films that either explicitly detail those mechanics in a way that makes sense or gloss over them to enough of a degree that you forget to focus on how it could all make sense. The plot of The Tomorrow War is so ambitious, however, that it manages to both explain too much and too little, waving away potential contradictions with murky science that never earns follow-up questions from anyone in the movie. Despite the setbacks of the confounding time-travel mechanics, the film does at least attempt to use the concept as allegories for the importance of the present looking out for the future. Obviously, the more overt message is in regards to things like climate change and taking environmental action now in hopes of giving future generations a sustainable planet, yet these messages are so muddled in the high-concept nature of the action, it feels like a squandered opportunity.
There might be a lot of things that you could hold against The Tomorrow War, but it's hard to say that it's necessarily poor quality, more that it falls within a specific niche of thematic blends that it's not going to be for anyone. Given that it's a summer release, one could absolutely imagine seeing this at a drive-in back in the '90s with other event films like Independence Day, Men in Black, or Armageddon, with the blend of action, humor, sci-fi, and comedy sure to scratch a specific itch of certain audiences. Unfortunately, with the past decade seeing more compelling sci-fi and time-travel fare like Looper, Arrival, or the aforementioned Edge of Tomorrow, the landscape of the genre has changed and The Tomorrow World feels stuck in a different era. The cast is all doing their best and the film is largely pulled off in an effective technical degree, but it falls far short of its potential and, given that it's headed straight to Amazon Prime Video instead of landing in theaters, it loses the impact of merely being escapist entertainment. Schlocky B-movies aren't inherently underwhelming, but The Tomorrow War still feels like a watered-down experience that will leave you wishing you had spent the time to watch the films it feels like it ripped off.
Rating: 2 out of 5
The Tomorrow War hits Amazon Prime Video on July 2nd.