Making a jump from directing an animated feature (2017’s The Lego Batman Movie) to a live-action film, The Tomorrow War marks the biggest project yet for Chris McKay. It even costs a hefty US$200 million budget and it was initially set to be released in cinemas back in December 2020. Of course, the ever-dreadful pandemic kept messing up everyone’s life eventually led the studio (Paramount Pictures) to sell its film to Amazon Studios.
For an event film like The Tomorrow War meant to be experienced on the big screen, it was definitely a pity to see it has to end up on Amazon Prime Video streaming service. This may have been McKay’s first venture into the live-action territory but he sure has an eye for propulsive action moments and visual flair. With such a sizable budget at his disposal, the action scenes are both exciting and immersive. Among the scenes worth mentioning here is the team of soldiers’ first encounter with the albino aliens known as Whitespikes in the ruined city of Miami.
But shame about the plot, though. Written by Zach Dean, whose previous credits include Deadfall (2012) and 24 Hours to Live (2017), The Tomorrow War is nothing more than your typical sci-fi film with a time-travel element and yes, alien invasion. It’s derivative to the core, borrowing from like-minded genre movies like Terminator, Independence Day, Starship Troopers and Edge of Tomorrow.
The film got off to a slow start, where we first introduced to Dan Forester played by Chris Pratt and the timeline takes place in the near future of December 2022. Dan is an ex-soldier who is now a high-school science teacher, has a beautiful wife (Betty Gilpin) and a young daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). Then, one night while watching a World Cup 2022 match at home, the live channel is suddenly interrupted by an unknown force field. From there, a team of well-equipped soldiers led by Lt. Hart (Jasmine Mathews) warn everyone about the Earth will be invaded by aliens thirty years from now.
The unknown force field in question happens to be a manmade wormhole specially created to send soldiers from the present to the future and vice versa. From there, many people including ordinary citizens are being deployed to fight the aliens. The thing is, everything here is done in a hasty fashion and we just have to swallow the fact that people forced to play their roles in stopping an alien invasion. Even if they hardly receive proper military training. In other words, they are basically sent to die on a suicide mission.
Long story short, they eventually get transported into the future and among the draftees involved include Dan and an obligatory comic relief played by Sam Richardson as Charlie. While the story itself is as clichéd as it goes, there is a notable exception that turns out to be a subplot involving Yvonne Strahovski (TV’s Chuck, Dexter and The Handmaid’s Tale), who plays a commanding military officer from the future. She even provides the much-needed emotional weight in the otherwise been-here, done-that kind of sci-fi blockbuster.
Apart from Strahovski’s solid supporting turn, the film also benefits from a typically charismatic turn by Chris Pratt while Betty Gilpin delivers decent support in her otherwise obligatory worried-wife role. The amazingly buffed-up J.K. Simmons shows up as Dan’s estranged father, James Forester.
From the technical perspective, the special effects are mostly top-notch from the digitally-rendered apocalyptic environments to the CG aliens. Lorne Balfe’s pulse-pounding score is on point here, even though it tends to overwhelm in certain moments. Going back to the aforementioned scene involving the first encounter with the Whitespikes, McKay also knows well how to build slow-burning tension. Using the power of silence while eschewing the use of music, he successfully creates a foreboding sense of dread. It may have been a brief moment but it also proved that McKay an ace not only in crafting action scenes but also suspense.
The Tomorrow War could have used some trimmings, where its nearly 140-minute length feels overlong for its own good. The final third act, which takes place on a glacier, turns out to be one of the weakest points in this film.
The Tomorrow War is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.