Earth, 2051. If we can recruit some starship troopers to terminate these aliens, the thing is that we’ll have ourselves a planetary Independence Day.
Amazon Prime’s new big-budget sci-fi actioner The Tomorrow War is a fun Nineties-style throwback blockbuster, or whatever the streaming-video-on-demand equivalent of that is. Couchbuster? It’s a shame that this cheerfully derivative flick wound up going straight to COVIDeo, because it would have been a hoot to be surrounded by hundreds of laughing and whooping fans while watching Chris Pratt, J.K. Simmons, and the guy who played Richard Splett on Veep go to war with giant alien lizard-bug monsters on the big screen. The movie was originally going to be released last Christmas Day by Paramount, but things didn’t work out and now Jeff Bezos owns it, along with everything else. As it is, it makes for a thoroughly entertaining evening at home, and it’s notably better than any of the several popcorn movies currently showing at the multiplex. Best of all, there is no end-credits sequence. When it’s over, it’s over, and you can go to bed instead of spending eleven minutes watching lists of post-visualization digital-sequencing-effects coordinators.
Pratt, a true movie star and one of the most likable performers alive, plays an ex–Special Forces sergeant spinning his wheels teaching high-school biology. He, and everyone else, is surprised when a 2022 World Cup soccer game gets interrupted by warriors from 2050. “We are you, 30 years in the future,” they announce. “We are fighting a war. Our enemy is not human. And we are losing.” Time scientists have built a shaky portal that admits entry to only one forward spot in the future — a period long after the invaders had gained the advantage, when they’ve reduced earth’s human population to under 500,000.
To defeat the monsters, the world of 2022 quickly agrees on a global draft of random citizens, minimally trained, who get zapped into the future. There are a couple of twists: To avoid time paradoxes, the draftees must be people over 40 who would have been dead by 2050, and their bosses are a group of young people who would not yet have been born in 2022. So, doughy middle-aged Gen X will have to save the day, but only if Gen Z will teach us how to work the tech. Sounds about right.
The simplicity of the movie is refreshing: Why are the aliens coming to conquer the world in 2051? “We are food, and they are hungry.” If only the plots of the last two blockbusters I saw (F9, Black Widow) had understood the wisdom of streamlining their stories. Moreover, the film’s writer Zach Dean comes up with a lot of banter that’s actually funny, as it often is in the Bruckheimer movies. “You look like a murderer, no offense.” “You can braid each other’s hair later.” I think my favorite might be this one: “You’re gonna get eaten. We’re Team Not-Eaten.”
The Tomorrow War is the debut feature of Chris McKay, who worked on The Lego Movie and was the director of The Lego Batman Movie. The flick doesn’t go too deep into time-travel hypotheticals or get bogged down in the soul-searching anguish that might follow the deaths of billions of people, because McKay sticks to a breezy Jerry Bruckheimer/Roland Emmerich register rather than going all broody à la Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder. That’s fine — I’m getting a little tired of pretentious comic-book movies anyway — but the twists are nowhere near as clever as in the brilliant 2014 Tom Cruise movie, Edge of Tomorrow, which this film somewhat resembles. It’s also a bit hampered by a lackluster musical score (by Lorne Balfe) and a flat performance by Yvonne Strahovski, the actress who plays the lead scientist of the future.
Still, Pratt and Simmons play off one another very well as a son and father who hate each other but are forced to work together, while Veep’s Sam Richardson is great fun as a nerdy tech guy. They’re all perfectly cast, and the movie does exactly what it sets out to do. It’s all about manly men, coolly composed women, and nervous comic sidekicks joining together to load up, crack wise, and splatter the scenery with the green guts of gross monster alien bugs. Like its forebear The Terminator, which was originally received as simply a fun B-movie before it became acclaimed as a deathless cinematic classic, it’s exciting without taking itself too seriously. Its producer is David Ellison, who via his company Skydance tried unsuccessfully to revive the Arnold Schwarzenegger franchise with 2019’s ho-hum Terminator: Dark Fate. Ellison, who also produces the Mission: Impossible movies and the upcoming Top Gun sequel, may be on his way to becoming the Millennial Bruckheimer.