I’m always ready for a new scifi movie so I was eager to watch “The Tomorrow War” streaming on Amazon Prime, starring Chris Pratt.
(And yes, the makers of the movie managed to work in a kind of gratuitous scene where there’s half an excuse to remove his shirt and show us his six pack abs. Not complaining.)
The movie felt stitched together to me as if the director needed an action scene here and a deeply emo scene there and oh, yeah we’d probably better add footage of the whitespike aliens now…and the last portion really feels like the beginning of another movie, not the end of this one. There were very cool and exciting battle scenes and action scenes but there were also long stretches of conversation and character development.
Overall, the concept came across to me as “What if Kyle Reese took Sarah Connor forward in time to fight beside her son John against the Big Bad, instead of just protecting her in our time?” In fact there were quite a few scenes and references in this movie to other science fiction movies – or they were borrowed from perhaps? Or there are only so many scifi ideas in the world?
By now you’ve probably heard the official plot summary that humans in the future are about to be wiped out by aliens and they’ve come back in time to recruit (draft) present day Us to come and fight.
Cool premise. Maybe if the movie had chosen to go straight into the action, with our hero Dan Forester (high school science teacher and former Special Forces soldier) going to the future to fight, it would have been a better movie. But no, several years pass…finally he’s drafted. His wife insists he needs to run and draft dodge instead. Turns out very few people ever come back from their seven day deployment in the future and those who do are badly wounded inside and out. He goes to the father he loathes to ask for help but that encounter goes badly.
Bookmark the estranged dad. He’s the world’s best preserved Vietnam vet, portrayed by an actually hunky J. K. Simmons, he of the Farmers Insurance ads and an Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actor in “Whiplash.” Dad is a badass and flies all kinds of big planes for a billionaire and has access to weapons, illicit tech and more.
So Dan reports for induction. Frankly I found all of this part of the movie highly annoying. The world has exhausted its military resources and is now sending random civilians. Lots of out of shape, ordinary people. Most of them don’t seem to even know which end of the gun not to shoot themselves with, yet they’re being sent forward in time to save the Earth. Yeah, right. There’s supposed to be a quick basic training, with no calisthenics, no live-fire drills…actually it seemed to consist of a lot of meetings in conference rooms? And free time to chat and share life stories so we’ll care when they die in battle with whitespikes.
There was hand wavium about how the time travel works. I think the less time spent on this the better. Something about two rafts tethered in the river of time and we can only go here and there and nowhere else. Uh huh. Just ignore those plot potholes and go with the flow. Here’s an action sequence to divert you.
Oops, Dan gets sent forward in time with his new friends early, falling from the sky right into disaster.
Our poor untrained civilians are in the middle of an overrun city, charged with rescuing the most important scientists on the planet from an enemy very few of these people have seen (one guy is on his third deployment though and wears a whitespike claw as a trophy – he says he’s ‘Team Not Eaten’) after most of them just got killed parachuting with no parachutes. Lucky for them Dan is there and he somehow through sheer force of will and quick peptalks gets them to act kinda military. What if he hadn’t been there? Utter disaster instead of only 90% disaster.
Now the future people obviously have a highly trained, well equipped military so tell me again why it’s necessary to bring forward ordinary civilians from our time? Ah, cannon fodder, you say. Or at least that was my conclusion.
ANYWAY. Genuinely exciting action ensues. The aliens are quite hideous and extremely deadly. Insectlike and hard to kill. Ugly.
Dan and one or two others survive, The scientists are dead but Dan did manage to retrieve the all important twelve vials of…well, he doesn’t know what but the Future Officer giving the commands said they were the answer to the whole war.
The movie switches gears again. Dan meets the commanding officer and she’s his daughter, all grown up, but she’s very cold to him and refuses to answer many of his questions. She does say she has a reason for bringing him to the future. Seems she’s estranged from him the way he was estranged from his own father.
I like the character of the daughter Muri, played by Yvonne Strahovsky (Ryan Kiera Armstrong as the child version) but come on, man – she’s the top military commander and the top scientist and she’s constantly putting herself in harm’s way like the captain of a certain Federation starship…when exactly did she acquire all this expertise and military experience and….? She does get the job done though.
The task at hand is capturing a queen from an underground whitespike hive so Muri can test poisons on her. Seems the future people have developed toxins to kill the males but the females just shake it off. Portions of this segment reminded me of the 1954 movie “Them,” about giant ants, where the scientists there had to descend into the ants’ burrow. It also reminded me of “Jurassic Park” a bit as the soldiers try to force the queen into a cage.
Eventually the task is done, with huge loss of life and equipment – the queen can call other whitespikes to help her and they arrive in overwhelming numbers but Dan saves the day and his daughter. They get to spend emotional time on a beach while waiting for extraction by her troops. She tells him about the rest of his life in the past until his death and why they’re estranged. He’s shocked and refuses to believe he’d ever leave her and her mother.
Oops, time to move on to Deepwell, the last bastion of the human race, out in the ocean. This was a very cool place but mostly we see the lab where Muri labors to refine the toxins so she can test them on the captive queen. Dad, the high school science teacher helps out but basically he stands by and watches. He went to Cal State and she went to MIT. Oh. THey do make progress toward reconciling, however.
Meanwhile I’m thinking, yeah, no good ever comes of having the Big Bad supposedly under restraint in a lab and rendered harmless. And I had flashbacks to “Deep Blue Sea” and the genetically modified great white shark who was similarly tranquilized. Until she wasn’t.
Just as Muri finally finds the right toxin with 100% lethality for the queen, the army of whitespikes the queen has been secretly summoning arrive and pour into Deepwell. End of humanity coming but we’re going down fighting. Dan is running out of time and the last remaining time machine is high up on the installation’s upper level. Will he and Muri reach it and escape? Can he bring the one vial of toxin back to our time to be made in bulk?
Very exciting battle scene, running and shooting and dodging on the deepwater platform as the aliens overrun the place…
HUGE SPOILER AHEAD……
Dan is automatically returned to our time, with the vial. He’s severely traumatized but after talking with his wife, he’s determined to forge ahead with trying to find and eradicate the aliens in our time before they suddenly appear out of nowhere and bring disaster.
“Second chances are hard to come by,” says one character but the human race and Dan and his Dad and everyone apparently has that chance.
This is where the movie took a turn and felt like the beginning of a different film. Dan finds two of his buddies who served with him in the future and with the help of one of Dan’s high school science students (!) who happens to be a volcano geek (don’t ask – this review is too long already) they pinpoint where the alien ship must have landed and got frozen in the ice. The theory is that it took the effects of global warming to thaw the ice imprisoning the whitespikes and setting them free to appear out of nowhere in the future and begin working to exterminate humans.
Dan and his friends go to speak with the Secretary of Defense, who is uninterested. The world is descending into chaos and he thinks we may all be gone long before the aliens even defrost. Did I mention the site of the alien ship is deep in the Russian Arctic? With the government checked out of the problem, who can our heroes go to for help?
Off to Russia, bolstered by a few of the future soldiers who were stranded in the modern day when the time machine was destroyed. They find the ship under the ice as predicted, there are a few surprises (I can’t give away all the spoilers), there’s a battle and hand to tentacle combat on the snow with a very enraged queen whitespike. Probably not a spoiler to tell you Dan ultimately triumphs, yelling “Die!” at the queen as she…dies.
(I think “Yippie-ki-yay, mother*cker” is more effective than “Die.” It wasn’t even “F*cking die”….)
Then a very nice little ending scene in Suburbia with the entire family reunited…
And the two hours and eighteen minutes are done. Yes, movie fans, it’s a lonnngggg movie.
The aliens will never erupt from the ice to kill off humanity, Muri won’t die, none of that grim future will happen.
I give it a B- overall and will probably watch it at least one more time.
“Independence Day” is my favorite movie for the 4th of July weekend, however, and I’m planning to watch that for the nth time later today! Now there’s an A+ scifi movie.