It’s as snappy as a bunch of legos, and directed by the guy who gave us THE LEGO MOVIE, Chris McKay, here in his live-action directorial debut. But he hasn’t quite figured out the connective tissue that holds human characters together, nor a live-action feature which is its own kind of organism. What we’ve got here is a massive assemblage of parts that interlock bluntly on the surface, a Frankenstein’s monster of storytelling tropes unsupported by human life. THE TOMORROW WAR attempts an interplanetary, intergenerational, multicultural, multinational, action-packed, sci-fi saga of family, heroism and yes, healing; goes at it like there’s no tomorrow– and misses the mark.
The premise grabbed me: there’s a war in the future in which present-day humans are drafted to fight against invading aliens trying to wipe out the human race. One of the film’s best lines explains the aliens modus operandi: “We are food and they are hungry.” Simpler than TENET, the film spells out the rules with speedy upfront exposition designed to address the inevitable questions and entangling logic that arise whenever one plummets down the time-traveling rabbit hole.
We are quickly introduced to all the characters who will form a ragtag team with Chris Pratt in the lead as Dan Forester a biology teacher/Iraq war veteran who’s just been turned down for a coveted research position. He’s suddenly drafted and forced to leave his wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and science nerd daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) and heads off to the future with a glumness that clings to his performance throughout. Pratt is strangely flat in this role and never summons the reserves of feeling called for in pivotal emotional moments.
He meets Charlie (Sam Richardson) a geeky PhD who’s good for a laugh and a some “scientific” answers when the time comes. J.K. Simmons pops up as Dan’s tough-talking, bearded and estranged father, and you can bet they will finish their unfinished business by the time they finish the film. A few other nondescript characters are sketched in to serve particular functions — comic relief, foil for the hero, etc.
The draftees get no military training during orientation before they are dropped into the future and handed big guns for a blind date with beasties they’ve never before seen: humongous, drooling, tentacled arthropods which owe a lot to Ridley Scott’s ALIEN — still the scariest of all alien creatures and movies. Homage or appropriation depends on your point of view. For me, these critters were a disappointment, and so was the scene where the female of the species faces off with the female colonel in charge (Sigourney did it first) played by a well-cast Yvonne Strahovski (“The Handmaid’s Tale”).
Ultimately, the movie succeeds on very narrow terms. Chris Pratt’s shirt is off within 20 minutes. There are lots of big, loud action sequences, many of them recalling better films from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “World War Z” to the aforementioned ALIEN. This might be the messiest, noisiest sci-fi flick in recent memory. I wasn’t looking for deep character development, or profound performances, but there has to be enough detail and depth to allow one to care–which is what the film invites us to do and then doesn’t lay the groundwork to help us do it. We can only suspend disbelief if there’s enough to grab onto in order to move from one emotionally coherent moment to the next.
When an army from the future suddenly punctures the space/time continuum and lands in the middle of the World Cup on TV to address the planet, no one seems sufficiently dumbfounded and everyone seems too suddenly resigned to this astonishing reality. Government hacks are even more transparently venal than we’ve come to expect. Each character is too obviously contrived to a type: cynical, egg-headed, hard-bitten, goofy, corrupt, etc. Big reveals feel unearned and anticlimactic. Cliched dialogue abounds: “Sometimes a man does what’s best for his family not himself.” Jokey asides are too dutiful to be funny. The writers barely broke a sweat over any details of plot that might have built suspense and allowed us to invest on any level– literal, psychological or emotional. The filmmakers’ investment was misspent: too many plot strands, too little focus, overcompensating action. The result? A derivative, generic movie that few will remember the day after tomorrow. Now playing on AMAZON PRIME.