Review: 'The Tomorrow War' (2021) Dir. Chris McKay
Picked up by Amazon Prime following delays to the December 2020 theatrical release, we now get to see the time-travel / action war film from Chris McKay in his directorial debut...
Former US solider turned biology teacher James Daniel Forester (Pratt) is spending a normal Christmas in 2022, dealing with rejection over losing a potential new job but making the most of the festive season with his family.
But the festivities don't last long when soldiers from 30 years in the future arrive to enlist Dan and a host of other military personnel to help fight a losing future war against an alien threat known as the "White Spikes".
Dan is forced to time-travel into the future, joining the likes of his grown-up daughter, Col. Muri Forester (Strahovski) and a host of new recruits, to battle the White Spikes and save the Earth for his generation and the generations yet to be...
Thrown into the action straight away, we are presented with an age-old dilemma of December films...is this a Christmas film? We are treated to Christmas trees, snow, lights and The Waitresses with Christmas Wrapping and Chris Pratt's family man enjoying the World Cup with his family and friends. But the debate doesn't last long as we are thrown into a real slice of science-fiction fantasy; a war is raging 30 years in the future, and people from the present are being drafted to help fight.
It's a haunting premise, and we are given some time to understand the scenario. When soldiers arrive from the future to draft otherwise innocent everyday people with military history for seven days of fighting, families are torn apart and a new outlook on life is suddenly perceived everyone. Pratt plays Dan (middle name) who has history of Iraq duty and one of the many to join the fight. It's a wonderful beginning to this, a novel idea from debut director Chris McKay who lays out lots of sci-fi iconography such as time-travel gadgets, high-tech weapons and tough talking soldiers.
Pratt is joined by a host of others as part of his team, including Sam Richardson, Edwin Hodge and Keith Powers, all who offer welcome degrees of subtle humour and pathos and work together well. Yvonne Strahovski adds a nice humane touch to the film as Forester's young daughter now grown up serving as a colonel in the war. This adds nothing but some dynamics to the leads and emotional crux to the notion of serving in war. J.K Simmons is on form as cantankerous Vietnam vet and father to Pratt, serving when he needs to and enjoying more action to get stuck into with a mighty beard to boot.
Chris Pratt thankfully proves he can lead in a film away from the MCU safety blanket. He's got the right balance of charm, wholesome innocence and likeable personality to be seen as the "everyday hero" thrown into a hostile environment. Away from the overt style of action star, Pratt blends the persona into one that works as a family man and solider without losing sight of either. He holds the film together and he is great to watch given time to shine, letting you believe everything he does thanks to his confident delivery.
All the entertainment elements used in successful science-fiction are here; think 'Starship Troopers' meets 'Resident Evil' with a dose of 'Aliens' and a touch of 'The Terminator' and you're there.
It's nice that there is some depth to the story; while it goes on a little, we are treated to a bit of thought to the notion of this time-travel expedition. You learn why mostly over 40s are drafted, and why young soldiers are in charge of training, and why the draft rate is so high. Some impressive and somehow harrowing CGI takes us 30 years into the future in what could be a brilliant video-game franchise cut-scene. This is a warzone on an apocalyptic scale.
We've seen the locations in said video games for years; suburbs torn apart by war. Buildings are mostly vacant and abandoned, torn apart in smouldering ruins, smoke drifts across the streets, the skies are thick with cloud and fires rages across the horizon. It's a perfect setting for a sci-fi shooter that pits a rag-tag team of heroes up against a very eerie alien threat. There's actually a good amount of practical set design, stunt-work and action, with CGI never seemingly used to cut corners. When it's used, it's used well and looks very slick in execution, especially with the White Spikes.
When the action kicks off, it's staged for maximum thrills - McKay isn't afraid to show casualties of war, reminding us not everyone will make it out alive against such a monstrous threat. US Raptors soar above the warzone, humvees are taken out like toys, explosions rip through streets and a bombastic score by Lorne Balfe maintains the tension, severity and high stakes of war.
It's a meaty running time at 2hrs 10mins, but the pace never wains enough for you to lose interest, again with a good balance of narrative, action and entertaining character interactions. There's enough science here amidst the action to try and make this a story that deals with consequence, family and battling to survive.
After the COVID-19 pandemic through 2020 and 2021, this feels like a return to the high-octane thrills and solid talent of the movies that many have missed. It's a real shame it never made it to the big screen where it clearly belongs.
A science-fiction action film that isn't afraid to be just that. 'The Tomorrow War' presents war on a whole new scale and is a welcome return to the blockbuster popcorn genre after such a long time away.
'The Tomorrow War' is a co-production between Paramount Pictures, Skydance Media, New Republic Pictures, Phantom Four Films and Lit Entertainment Group