You can usually rely on comic-actor-turned-ripped-action-star Chris Pratt for a good time at the movies. The star of Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World leads sci-fi action film The Tomorrow War, a creature feature streaming today on Amazon Prime Video, and it’s worth your time (if you have two and a half hours to spare).
Originally scheduled for a theatrical release date of last Christmas, the film was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and skips a planned theater release. The Tomorrow War streams from today, Friday July 2.
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Pratt is an army vet and high school teacher who just wants to do proper science in a proper lab. He joins his loving family to watch the 2022 World Cup — for some reason; it feels more like some weird cross-promotion for Amazon’s soccer coverage than a thing an actual American family might do. But whatever, because a weird ball of light interrupts the match and spits out a platoon of heavily armed soldiers. “We are you,” the suspiciously youthful leader announces, “30 years in the future.”
It turns out humanity is fighting a war for survival, and not doing very well. Next thing you know, ordinary people from the present are being drafted to jump forward in time and fight the good fight against toothy monsters.
Now, if they know how the future’s gonna go, they can just stop the war before it begins, right? Not so fast, buddy. Like all time travel stories, there are rules, and the rules are that the writer really doesn’t want you asking questions. The first half hour of The Tomorrow War alternates between introducing Pratt’s family dynamics and ticking off all the obvious time travel questions, till a soldier in a briefing room basically looks down the camera and tells you to shut up and stop asking. Thankfully, they finally hand Pratt a gun, and it’s off to the races with assorted action set pieces and general widescreen carnage.
The pandemic caused theaters to close for so long that there just isn’t room at the box office for many of the past year’s planned blockbusters, which means various films are skipping theaters for a streaming release. Sequels and franchise blockbusters have the big screen sewn up, so original stories like The Tomorrow War are sadly edged out. But it has to be said streaming feels like a natural home for films like this or Amazon’s other recent big screen refugee, Without Remorse, or Paramount’s other high concept sci-fi action flick, Infinite.
Tomorrow War is a lot like Infinite. They both have a touch of straight-to-video about them, in their simple but evocative sci-fi premises and overblown action scenes. They both feature a big movie star playing an everyman in a jam: Here it’s Pratt, while Mark Wahlberg toplined Infinite. That’s probably the defining difference between the two movies, explaining why Tomorrow War is so much more watchable. Wahlberg brought an earnest, furrowed-brow seriousness to Infinite, the joyless energy you’d imagine gets him into the gym at 4 a.m. Pratt, meanwhile, is in on the joke. And that means, by extension, so are you. The Tomorrow War isn’t just funny, it’s fun.
If we’re going to compare this to another movie, it’s more like the fondly remembered 2014 actioner Edge of Tomorrow, also based around a time-twisting alien invasion. Edge of Tomorrow featured Tom Cruise in a surprisingly comic performance, and that’s the secret ingredient here too. J.K. Simmons wrings some deadpan humor from his relatively small role, while Sam Richardson (who you may recognize from later series of Veep) is great value as the comic sidekick (including one particularly good joke about Will Smith/Independence Day). Yvonne Strahovski, meanwhile, gets the short end of the stick as she’s forced to carry the film’s drama almost solo while also barking lines like “Goddammit, Dan! Get the hell out of there!”
Humor keeps the action on the right side of monotonous throughout The Tomorrow War’s frankly unnecessary two-hour-and-twenty-minute runtime. A big factor in the film’s inflated length is the amount of time spent watching Pratt and his fellow combatants unload endless ammo clips into computer-generated swarms of beasties. It’s like watching a YouTube video of someone else playing a video game, namely Call of Duty: James Cameron Aliens edition. It’s surely no coincidence the film opens with an abrupt shot of Chris Pratt dropping out of the sky like a video game character spawning.
Intriguingly, it’s not all fun and blasting. “Science is important,” deadpans Pratt in an early scene, “so we need to focus up.” And indeed, science is important in The Tomorrow War. How else could we get the film’s tortuous time travel technology and horrifying toxic bioweapons. In fact, the nightmarish science feels more like some odd pitch for army recruitment (the US military is extensively thanked in the credits) than a genuine advert for STEM education.
Despite the slightly icky “kill ’em all” attitude, there’s something urgent and honorable about a film that focuses on how people of today need to wholeheartedly fight to preserve the future for all our children. Hey, at least it’s smarter than Fast and Furious 9.
With tense, thrilling action and winning performances from Pratt and chums, The Tomorrow War is a decent streaming flick that could’ve done well on the big screen (although you can’t skip past the boring bits in a theater). It’s too damn long, but so’s everything else. At least this time travel romp has good comic timing.