A sci-fi action flick featuring aliens, The Tomorrow War exists along with a surfeit of similar films—from genre classics such as Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens to contemporary blockbusters like Independence Day and Edge of Tomorrow, with which this film shares more than just the word ‘tomorrow’. The Tomorrow War too has a lip-smacking premise. Soldiers from 2051 land in 2022 to warn people about an alien invasion in the future that’s bound to wipe out the human race.
Governments across the world (read ‘America’) send people into the future for a seven-day window to fight the Sisyphean war that has a 30% survival rate. The stakes are high, and during the first 30 minutes of the film, though we are yet to catch a sight of the menace, there is an enjoyable undercurrent of tension. The first act might have well made for a high-tension human drama set in a world on the verge of insanity. While Dan Forester (Chris Pratt, playing Chris Pratt) an Iraq War veteran and biology teacher, takes a class for a room full of visibly insouciant students, one of them asks, “What’s the point of anything—school, grades, and college?” Doom is imminent in this opening act. The relationship Dan shares with his wife (Betty Gilpin), daughter, and with his estranged father (JK Simmons), add to the play, although the healing of the wounded father-son dynamic can be seen happening from a mile away.
Dan gets, expectedly, drafted, and almost immediately sent to the precarious future without preparation. His military training, of course, comes in handy. When Dan and his acquaintances, Charlie (the funny Sam Richardson), and Dorian (a stoic Edwin Hodge), among others, land in an unassigned, remote location, you expect the stakes to only grow manifold. Surprisingly, it works inversely. The more we are exposed to the obnoxious future and the closer characters inch towards the vicious, man-eating creatures called Whitespikes, the danger and threat get reduced to a trickle.
The ‘blockbuster’ tag is a major impediment, constraining it to operate in a family-friendly zone and in turn, debilitating its potential. Take, for instance, the first spotting of the whitespikes. The sequence is neatly set up, built on quietness and anticipation. It is similar in treatment to the anxiety-inducing stretch in Aliens where the crew explores the shady interiors of a deserted colony in space before aliens wreak havoc. What The Tomorrow War lacks, though, is the ominous mood. Although we get graphic details, there is no room for fear and anxiety when the slow-burning scene suddenly transforms into action. Credit where it’s due though—the action sequences are the strongest link of this Chris McKay directorial. The first set-piece, set in an apocalyptic Miami, is striking, with Lorne Balfe’s pumping score burnishing it. It is a sequence where everything—music, writing, and cinematography—comes together wonderfully.
The biggest deterrent in The Tomorrow War is how it relegates the creatures into disposable CG objects. The whitespikes, despite intimidating design and powers (they release sharp objects from their tentacles, hence, the name), never rise above, say, the generic monster armies of Suicide Squad or the Avengers: Infinity War films. Had they been nearly half as intimidating as the aliens in the original Alien trilogy, The Tomorrow War might have become a sci-fi actioner for the ages.
When Dan learns that Colonel Muri Forester (Yvonne Strahovski) is his daughter from the future, the strangeness of this relationship is not leveraged completely, but it does add a profound dimension to this otherwise flimsy story. On account of the weird, time-bending father-daughter relationship, the screenplay is able to provide some much-need breathers amid all the clamour.
The bits I enjoyed about The Tomorrow War are those where it shows self-awareness. During a refreshing climactic showdown—whose glacier setting adds realism to the action—between Dan Forester and a whitespike, things get personal for Dan. He utters a word that’s mocked later on. It’s a sign that the film isn’t all caught up in its own seriousness, but it’s also a sign of the heightened hysteria the screenplay constantly overwhelms us with.
|Film: The Tomorrow War
Director: Chris McKay
Cast: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J. K. Simmons, Betty Gilpin, Sam Richardson, Edwin Hodge
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video