The Tomorrow War actually has a lot going for it in its first act. The setup of drafting global civilians from the present to fight in the future is loaded with the potential for tons of great science-fiction commentary. We meet Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), a military veteran who is now a high school biology teacher trying to get his students enthusiastic about science. But all the kids are impossible to reach because they have seen what the future holds: an alien invasion that seemingly guarantees the extinction of the human race in about thirty years. That alone is a fantastic idea to explore. Add to that a first act that clearly wants to establish contemplative ideas about veterans – Dan’s father (J.K. Simmons) is an anti-government Vietnam vet that Dan has cut off from his life – and conflicting viewpoints on drafting people for war and you have the recipe for a great piece of sci-fi commentary.
Unfortunately, The Tomorrow War promptly abandons most of that once the premise kicks off. Forester is sent into the future with a squad of quippy civilians and they start shooting up aliens. From there on, the movie runs on two wavelengths: perfunctory plot-driven mechanics and an emotional core that never clicks in the ways it needs to. It’s not the fault of Chris Pratt, who is a functional and sometimes even endearing lead, but the big heartbeat of the movie just doesn’t solidify due to the big character drama element never earning its pulls at the heartstrings. It’s mostly because the big middle chunk of the movie is suffocated by really uninventive action sequences that rarely have any impact. That’s doubly disappointing since director Chris McKay has proven himself incredibly adept in the field of animation with both television and feature film projects, but his live-action display here makes it feel like a movie that could have been directed by an algorithm.
Maybe these sequences would be more compelling if the villains of The Tomorrow War – animalistic aliens called Whitespikes – were at all interesting. As creature designs, they feel like the worst kind of instincts we see in monster movies from J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot productions. They don’t cut a memorable silhouette and don’t look distinct enough to stand out from the many Cloverfield-esque monsters we have seen in sci-fi movies over the last decade and change. Plus, they have little to no real character to themselves as antagonists. It’s the kind of mindless swarm creature fare that almost never works, and it definitely is one of the biggest nails in the film’s coffin.
Thankfully, the movie is kept afloat by not only Chris Pratt but a surprisingly stacked cast that is far better than the material they are given. J.K. Simmons is always a bonus to any production, and the truly wonderful Sam Richardson walks away as the best player in the troupe as the comedic relief character Charlie. If you want to see him really shine, please check out the new video game film adaptation Werewolves Within, a far superior experience to anything going on in The Tomorrow War and made with a fraction of the budget. You could almost watch that movie twice for how long you have to spend watching The Tomorrow War. The movie feels unnecessarily long at over two hours and could easily have benefited from a trim in that middle section, especially when the finale feels like a rushed epilogue.
The Tomorrow War has big “lazy Sunday movie on TNT” energy and that is not a compliment. It feels like you could fall asleep for large chunks of it and check back in without feeling you missed a whole lot. And those large chunks are almost always the action sequences. If that’s the effect you are getting from a sci-fi action movie, something is wrong. Even when the movie comes around and seems to have a point it wants to make, it’s so lazily executed and passed over that the whole endeavor feels like a waste. And the attempt to sew in some seeds of a potential sequel only adds to the feeling that this is a waste of time. And that is what The Tomorrow War is: a waste of time.