The Tomorrow War

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And so it was written that the wars between the streaming services would escalate and as a result, vast resources would be spent on movies that, despite boasting a scale as massive as your average Godzilla turd, would primarily be watched on a television, or even a tablet. If I’m being honest, it’s a business practice that sounds both obviously feasible and worryingly destructive simply for the reason that if you’re going to spend around $200 million dollars on a time travelling, alien invasion war movie, you’re probably going to want people to see it on a screen roughly the size of Wales to fully do it justice. However, as we all found out, the pandemic doesn’t discriminate and so Chris Pratt’s mahoosive epic that saw time displaced normal folks drafted into the future to fight ravenous monsters was hurriedly contained to the small (and smaller still) screens. However, this would turn out to be an interesting proving ground for movies with a hefty budget – if the scale is greatly reduced by the format you’re watching it on, doesn’t that mean a gargantuan film can’t coast along on bombastic visuals alone? Or simply put, in this climate, do movies like The Tomorrow War even have a tomorrow?

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Despite feeling despondent with his very normal life, former Green Berret and current Biology teacher Dan Forrester has a loving wife and a young daughter who adores him, but everything changes the day a bunch of marines from the year 2051 appear during the middle of the World Cup and announces that mankind is on the verge of extinction thanks to the frenzied attacks of a vicious, non-indigenous species dubbed the Whitespikes (no, not The White Stripes, c’mon, pay attention!). Fast forwarding ahead a bit, we skip all the parts where every country on the planet calls bullshit on that and zip right to the fact that after the world has sent its various militaries back through the wormhole to fight a war nearly 30 years in its own future with disastrous results, ordinary people are now being drafted into war.
Things are looking bleak with only 30% of people drafted surviving their seven day tour of duty and sooner or later, the inevitable happens and Dan is called up to serve. At first he and his family desire to flee, but after a spot of soul searching that makes that whole side plot instantly obsolete, Dan agrees to serve his planet and after literally no training for anyone, this latest batch of dead meat gets blasted into the future to wildly shot at screeching aliens that virtually impervious to bullets and shoot spikes out of lashing tentacles. Obviously, the first assault doesn’t go well (things immediately go south when a malfunction has most of the troops arrive in the future 50 storeys in the air), but once the dust has settled, Dan and his makeshift war buddies have only seven days to stay alive long enough to automatically get sent back to their own time – but assuming that they don’t get torn limb from limb, is that enough time to make a dent in seemingly insurmountable numbers of their feral enemy?

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So, for some of the reasons I stated earlier, I really should have hated The Tomorrow War. Not only does the smaller screen nullify a lot of the scale (kind of the point for a time travelling, future war movie), but a lot of similar movies of it’s kind (of which there are many) usually end up never being as cool as I hoped they would be. In a clutch of shiny, but shallow, invasion movies that includes everything from Skyline to Battle: Los Angeles to Independence Day: Resurgence, one of the only ones to have significant lasting power is the majestic Edge Of Tomorrow, but considering that The Tomorrow War liberally rips them all off, the film walks a knife edge between being tiresomely derivative and entertainingly familiar.
It’s kind of lucky then that it sort of falls on the latter side of the blade, although you often feel that it’s more likely through luck rather than judgement. The set up is admittedly kind of formless, wilfully skipping past problematic parts of the premise and merrily leaving plot holes in its wake in order to (ironically) plant us further along in the story to fast track us to the cool stuff. Wondering how exactly the entire world suddenly got on the same page and agreed to send all of its armies into a terrifying dystopian future with seemingly minimal fuss? Well keep wondering buddy, because despite the hefty two and a half hour running time, we’ve got no time to spend on that Oh, what’s that? How does the world benevolently police normal, untrained citizens into voluntarily turning up to get slaughtered in a war when w live in a world where people would refuse to wear mask? No time for that shit either, pal! Didn’t you hear? We got motherfucking aliens in this movie!

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So, if The Tomorrow War isn’t interested in making time to help its core ideas to make sense, what is it focusing on. Well, for a start, some generally visceral battle sequences for a start which, while robbing wholesale from the aforementioned Edge Of Tomorrow and Starship Troopers, prove to be genuinely gripping and deliriously epic. It helps that the Whitespikes (flesh eating critters that look like the monster from Cloverfield knocked up one of though things from The Great Wall) are impressively realised and are a genuine threat as they mindlessly charge through sheets of flame to violently chew-toy anyone that gets in their way.
So if it’s so painfully derivative, why did I enjoy it so much? Well, it helps that a slightly restrained Chris Pratt has a cast who have match his breezy charisma (always a pleasure to see Werewolves Within’s Sam Richardson and J.K. Simmsons is good for some grizzled snark as Dan’s estranged father) and the focus on family over God and country manages to keep the movie refreshingly free of any rampant flag waving, especially when it’s predictably revealed that future soldier Yvonne Strahovski is Dan’s fully grown daughter.

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So it’s not perfect and it’s certainly far too long – you feel the last 40 minutes of the movie would have been better served as the basis of a whole second movie – but thanks to some breathless battle scenes and a lean toward the world fighting aliens as one (even if the Americans do all the work), The Tomorrow War certainly left me pleasantly surprised.
Considering that the film was hobbled by the pandemic and that it’s hefty price tag was being mounted by a director who’s last credit was The Lego Batman Movie, things should have been a lot worse; but some genuine heart and some balls to the wall alien action means that you’ll enjoy yourself, even if a sense of over-familiarity might make you feel you’ve gone back in time rather than forward.

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