Review: McKay's 'The Tomorrow War' is a Decent Sci-Fi Summer Flick
by Zofia Wijaszka
July 2, 2021
Dystopian science fiction movies encourage ambivalent feelings in me; they both terrify and enthrall me, especially when the plot revolves around time loops, the future, and the end of the world. For example, imagine you're watching a soccer game when suddenly a purple, cloud-like mass appears right on the field, revealing a group of soldiers dressed in black who claim to be from the future. That is essentially how Chris McKay's The Tomorrow War begins - and it's frightening. The film, directed by the man behind The Lego Batman Movie, delivers a fun time and the entertainment you probably need after a long day. At the same time, it appears to be more of a one-time watch and nothing more than just a decent summer sci-fi flick.
McKay's The Tomorrow War begins in the year 2022. Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) and his wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) live a quiet but happy suburban life with their daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). However, it quickly turns upside-down when soldiers from the future appear out of nowhere and beg for help to fight aliens that invaded the Earth. Soon after, civil enlistment for the war begins, and everyone, including Dan, is forced to travel to the future to fight against incredibly fast, bloodthirsty aliens. Dan and a small group of survivors join forces with a brilliant scientist known only by a code-name, Romeo Command (Yvonne Strahovski), who is racing against time to find a weapon that works against the aliens.
The stellar cast of The Tomorrow War will undoubtedly capture the attention of most viewers. Pratt's Dan is a family man with a few aces up his sleeve. When thrown into the middle of a war zone, the man knows precisely what to do. It's clear that The Jurassic World star had plenty of fun on the set of The Tomorrow War, and it translates into his performance in the film. The first act focuses on civilians preparing to travel to the future. It takes a little too long and almost lost my interest, but Sam Richardson's portrayal of anxiety-ridden Charlie managed to keep my attention. There is an interesting juxtaposition between all the seriousness of the situation and the entertaining, often humorous banter between Charlie and Dan.
When the group travels to the future, the tone of The Tomorrow War shifts to a more serious narrative. The latter half of the film focuses on the collaboration between Dan and the scientist. The dynamics between Pratt and Strahovski’s characters are emotionally charged from the get-go and may be the best part of the story. Strahovski's Romeo Command is an ambitious, highly intelligent woman who plays a significant role in the salvation of humanity. Strahovski proves herself to be an actress of many genres, including one where she battles aliens, no matter the cost.
The futuristic film takes on a new meaning that transcends being merely a film about aliens invading Earth and killing off humans. Overall, it also discusses family issues and how significant it is to make our present existence count. Every action we take now has repercussions, and even the smallest, seemingly insignificant thing can alter and irreversibly change the course of our lives and the future of humanity. Another great casting choice in The Tomorrow War is the presence of Gilpin and J.K. Simmons, who plays Dan's estranged father. Although the actors don't appear as frequently as Pratt or Strahovski, they add a sense of freshness and humor to the film. Simmons, in particular, has a few lines that will make you laugh.
The special effects, as with any futuristic science fiction film, play a significant role. The Tomorrow War's visual effects aren't necessarily a highly elevated spectacle. It's possible that it could benefit the audience and their experience watching McKay's creation if it were shown on a big screen (instead of only streaming on Amazon's Prime Video). One of the most intriguing techniques used by the director, however, occurs when the characters face the aliens on a staircase. McKay takes an unusual approach in showcasing the alien creatures, making the viewer feel as if they are playing a first-person sci-fi game – the pale, terrifying, spike-shooting creatures charge towards us. In contrast, when the camera focuses on Pratt and others, we get to see them from a third-person perspective.
There is one moment in the film that I cannot discuss for fear of spoiling it; however, I must point out that it was predictable, and I definitely called *it*. But surprisingly enough, that didn't ruin the film for me, rather this enhanced it. I still had a good time with Pratt and his bionic arm, or with Strahovski and Richardson's absorbing characters. I was already expecting a fun, alien-filled futuristic film when I first saw the trailer for The Tomorrow War. Nonetheless, McKay delivers a more subtle, and somewhat nostalgic, narrative about family and the extraordinary impact it can have on our lives. As a result, The Tomorrow War is more layered than I anticipated. The film may not be the most ambitious of all, but it does its job, provides action, even a few tears, and, most importantly, it's simply fun to watch.
Zofia's Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Follow Zofia on Twitter - @thefilmnerdette