REVIEW: ‘The Tomorrow War’ weakened by convoluted concept

Sometimes you come across a movie where you ask “what the hell did I just watch?” when it gets done.

“The Tomorrow War” is one of those flicks.

The movie follows Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), a family man and retired soldier-turned school teacher in the year 2022. The story starts when the family watches a group of soldiers walk out of a portal on live TV. The soldiers inform those watching at home like the Foresters that they’re from the year 2051 where a massive war is taking place against aliens, and it’s not going well.

In order to push back against this threat, humanity developed a time bridge back to 2022 in order to get more fighters. The present day leaders agree to start a draft to send soldiers to the future and Forester ends up getting sent back into combat.

“The Tomorrow War” tries to do a lot, and it ends up being a total mess. It’s not an overstatement to say that each act feels like a different movie.

The first act comes across like it’s going to be a single mission film featuring a rag-tag team having to survive, not unlike “Army of the Dead” from earlier this year. Then, it swerves over to being a race-against-time sci-fi movie with the protagonists trying to find a silver bullet to the aliens.

An audience can’t get too comfortable, though, because the movie shifts again in the final act, going in a sort of “Indiana Jones,” adventure direction.

On top of that, while the film is shifting tones and genres, it’s also trying to juggle themes of veterans living with PTSD, parenthood and climate change. It ultimately makes things convoluted and the way the movie changes directions is enough to give a viewer whiplash.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures, Skydance Media and Amazon Studios.

It doesn’t help that humanity’s plan to fight the alien threat doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense when you start really thinking about it. From who gets selected in the draft to how long a tour is, the ideas put into play feel poorly developed, especially considering how things play out.

Also not helping “The Tomorrow War” is a lot of the melodrama that it has. Dan has a troubled relationship with his father that feels rather generic, and then later he finds out something about his future that came across as an excessive attempt to pull a viewer’s heartstrings.

The cast feels somewhat underutilized, too. The prime example is Pratt. He doesn’t get to be as charismatic and energetic on screen in this role, as compared to his portrayals of Peter Quill in the Marvel Universe and Owen in “Jurassic World.”

Pratt is at his best when he can be a fun, adventurous and a bit mischievous character with a heart of gold. He feels too subdued here.

It’s not to say he can only play that role, but it almost feels like the movie wanted that at times, and didn’t at others. So, Pratt’s performance is kind of being pulled in two directions.

At the very least, though, Pratt brings a likability to Dan, so he’s at least easy to root for. While the movie doesn’t feature him nearly enough, J.K. Simmons is also a welcome addition, bringing a good screen presence as Dan’s father.

The supporting cast feels rather forgettable, unfortunately. Basically, Sam Richardson plays another draftee, Charlie, who’s a university researcher but not a fighter. Edwin Hodge, meanwhile, is a soldier named Dorian, a quiet, shoot first, ask questions later type. They’re two sides of a common character coin that’s not worth much.

Despite its shortcomings, though, it’s at least entertaining at times. The alien  creatures look properly freaky and there are some solid action sequences. One moment where hundreds of the aliens are invading a human base is pretty thrilling.

However, when these moments fade, the movie runs out of steam. The spectacle helps this feature, but not nearly enough as needed.

Overall, “The Tomorrow War” was certainly an ambitious project, but perhaps too ambitious. It feels like a clear example of  biting off more than one can chew. It’s inconsistent, lacks great characters and doesn’t offer enough action for its two hour and 20 minute runtime. 2.25 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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