The Tomorrow War may crib from multiple great sci-fi movies, most notably Aliens, Terminator and Edge of Tomorrow, but if one is gonna steal might as well steal from the best. There’s a genuine feel of unstoppable menace to the alien threat here, and being sent to a future war is a horrific meat grinder people are unable to survive. While Tomorrow War may digress on family melodrama and a few supporting characters that are ultimately meaningless, where the movie works is alien baddies attacking hapless humans.
Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) is a former army man when the world is upended by the arrival of a military force from 50 years in the future. They reveal the Earth is overrun by aliens called Whitespikes and only by sending people from the past to fight can humanity be saved. A worldwide draft ensues and Dan’s name comes up, much to the dismay of Dan’s wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and his young daughter. Journeying with a new buddy, Charlie (Sam Richardson), the future battle against the Whitespikes is horrifying as monsters are taking over the world. But in the future he finds a military commander, Muri (Yvonne Strahovski) who is the adult version of his daughter. Now time-tossed father and daughter research a compound that will destroy the Whitespikes and potentially stop the war in the past before it ever happens.
There are a lot of ideas thrown around here, some of which gets glossed over to get to the good stuff of giant ebony snake alien monsters eating people. The worldwide draft is an interesting notion that humanity unites behind a single idea as there’s also anti-war protesters who say it’s not their problem. The arrivals from the future make their announcement during the World Cup, which is either an incredible coincidence it’s one of the largest televised events in on Earth, or the time travellers planned it that way. The visual of the future people landing on the soccer pitch in slow motion is very well done.
What’s visceral is how hopeless the future war seems, maybe even slightly darker than the film intended. Even though Dan and his daughter are trying to create an alien killer virus, it still means the future war version of his daughter and entire Earth is eaten by alien spike snakes. Even if he changes the past, this future version still eventually comes to a brutal end. It’s quite dark, which makes the third act of heroes quipping while they fight alien baddies feel a little inauthentic.
Like Edge of Tomorrow, the movie has time travel used as a weapon against an unstoppable alien enemy although not as innovative as that film. The Tomorrow War has a fun sci-fi nerdspeak scene when Dan and Charlie debate the rules of time travel, theorizing only people who would die before the future alien invasion are sent forward because so it won’t create a paradox. Later they ask since it’s time travel why don’t they just move to before the aliens invasion started and a somewhat lazy answer is that time only moves forward in one direction.
Pratt plays the steadfast quipping hero like he does in Guardians of the Galaxy, although slightly more mature with a wife and kid. Gilpin as the wife is basically there to remind the father he has something to fight for. The better family drama stuff is when Dan ends up in the future with the adult version of his daughter and while it’s highly improbable in the millions of people being sent into the future war that he’d happen to find his daughter, it can be hand-waved away as time travel trickery. Strahovski pulls off some interesting emotional dynamics as Muri lost her father years ago and then suddenly he’s back, even if he’s a different version from an alternate past. As Dan’s war buddy, Richardson gets in a lot of funny lines although he does have one dramatic moment when he says he survived his tour by admitting somewhat ashamedly that he hid. That emotional depth is gleefully tossed aside when by the third act he’s sawing aliens in half with a chainsaw. There’s a few other supporting military crew characters who get fleshed out like the guy who is keeping alien trophies but the supporting crew are pointless to invest in as everyone gets munched. J.K. Simmons pops up as Dan’s conspiracy theory nut and Simmons got seriously in shape for the role which is ultimately useless as he spends the third act in a winter coat. But he’s good for great one-liners.
The Whitespike aliens are very brutal. They’re constantly squealing and seem like a truly unstoppable storm. The female Whitespike is similar to Alien Queen in Aliens; not the most original notion but it works. Also the Whitespikes are surprisingly difficult to kill, especially one moment when Dan injects the killer serum into a creature’s arm and it literally just bites it off before the infection can spread. A final showdown in a blizzard between Dan, his dad and a female alien is effectively drawn out for maximum tension.
While component pieces are cobbled from better sci-fi movies, The Tomorrow War puts it together in an interesting package. The relationship diversions may be fruitless but the best stuff is showing how humanity seems helpless to stop the advancing alien swarm.
The Tomorrow War
Director: Chris McKay
Starring: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski and J.K. Simmons