A fight for the future you'll probably forget.
Chris Pratts actorial rise to stardom has been fascinating to watch. I still remember him as the happy go lucky Andy Dwyer on Parks and Rec, a fun guy with a knack for fun and mediocre songwriting. But recent years have seen Pratt branch out, leaving his sillier roles in the past in favour of the action movie spotlight. Now, most people may know him as Guardians of the Galaxy's Starlord, or even Jurrasic World's handsome Raptor trainer Owen Grady. He's done a lot to change his image, that's for sure, and in his more serious roles, he's been doing pretty well. His transition to chiselled action star has been impressive and with the release of Amazon Prime's latest film, The Tomorrow War, Pratt continues to flex his inner action hero; or at least tries his best.
Amazon Prime's heavily marketed The Tomorrow War dropped on the streaming service earlier this week and was, well, a bit of a hit or miss. The story goes that in 2051 humanity is on the brink of extinction thanks to some overwhelming alien threat. However, in the year 2022, all seems to be well as we are introduced to Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), a former soldier turned biology teacher, and his family who are hosting a party for the World Cup. Things quickly escalate as the World Cup match is interrupted by army recruiters from the future, calling on the people of 2022 to help them fight an unstoppable force (and at a pivotal moment in the match too, how rude). Dan ends up getting drafted into fighting for the future, where he meets some unexpected allies, fights against impossible odds, and maybe even finds himself being humanity's last hope.
Despite how centred the movie is around its premise, its narrative is nothing to rant and rave about. The exorbitant amount of exposition thrown at you throughout most of the movie's first half makes no attempt at appearing naturally. This leaves many of the films' contextual scenes feeling inauthentic, resulting in a total disconnect between the audience and the movie's relatively interesting plot. Time travel is so hastily explained that it becomes clear that the science of the movie was hardly a concern, and one scene, in particular, is so blatantly inserted for the purpose of exposition that it almost breaks the fourth wall.
After the opening sequence, a news anchor is shown delivering an update on what followed the appearance of the future soldiers. It's an effective way to bring the audience up to speed, but it bears no consideration for their immersion. Where it would be safe to assume a news anchor would be delivering the news, this one instead goes on as though they are teaching a history lesson; detailing every piece of info you need to know about the movie's setting regarding the future war and its effect on present-day politics and society. Informative as it is, it is some of the most disingenuous exposition you'll see in any movie this year, and not just because a news anchor is giving a lecture rather than a news report; something which speaks volumes for the script at large.
Our introduction to protagonist Dan Forester however is done pretty well. Everything about Dan's character is surmised within the opening sequence. We learn of his military background, his passion for biology, his tempestuous relationship with his estranged father, and also his increasing dissatisfaction with his life as a high school teacher. It's a lot to take in but unlike the rest of the movie's poor delivery of narrative exposition, everything about Dan's introduction to the audience feels natural and well-written. Though as the story progresses, I found that everything that made Dan an interesting character fell to the wayside, as though the film forgot about the significance of having a strong protagonist. Dan's growth as a character is ever-present, and there are some pivotal moments that influence his character arc, but the movie gives you no real reason to get invested in his character.
Pratt, known for his charm and comedic tendencies, only gets a few brief moments where he gets to show off his sillier side. The opening portion of the movie shows him to be a caring father who loves to make his kid smile, even in the face of some devastating news. But for the rest of the film, he is supposed to come across as quite dutiful and serious, which he does maybe a little too well. Pratt plays Dan as a very cool and collected military man, ready to gun down and hack through any alien invader if it means saving his allies. But there are parts of the movie that demand far greater emotional range from the actor that he just doesn't provide. In the quieter moments, he rarely drops his stern visage, failing to employ the acting range we know he has, which would've been of great benefit to a number of scenes. In trying to emulate the action stars of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, Pratt ends up looking more like a macho Zoolander, his furrowed brow inadvertently made a defining character feature present in almost every scene.
I do have to give credit to the films talented cast, who do their best to deliver strong performances throughout. Oscar winner and hardened Hollywood veteran J.K. Simmons is excellent in the role of Dan's father; Where, with such a small amount of screen-time, he perfectly captures the essence of his character who has his own hardass attitude and memorable moments. Yvonne Strahovski's character, Romeo Command, not only plays a central role in Dan's character arc but also does a phenomenal job of breathing some much-needed life into the movie with a compelling and emotive performance. Even funny guy Sam Richardson does well in his role as the terrified but optimistic sidekick, bringing with him much of the movie's comic relief; even if most of the jokes don't land. The cast does exceptionally well, it's just a shame the script and characters seem to be secondary to everything else.
This is where the action comes in. For what it's worth, the movie's various action sequences are pretty entertaining. Where almost every other part of the movie failed to gauge my interest, seeing Pratt and Co. take on hordes of sinister alien predators was a blast. By far the most impressive section of the entire movie was when Pratt and the rest of the draftees are sent into the future, landing in a ruined city engulfed in flames. Pratt assembles his team and they make their way through the eerily quiet streets, passing dismembered and bloody corpses left behind by the alien White Spikes. What follows is a sequence in a close-quarters laboratory littered with the remains of a massacre that took place within. It is unnerving and paints a dark picture, perfectly capturing the tone of despair associated with the films' bleak future and those who've had to endure their slow extinction. The White Spikes themselves aren't too terrifying, looking like large deformed eldritch lizards, but when the movie keeps them out of sight and the tension high, that's where it really excels.
However, the amount of effort put into creating the film's CGI abundant action sequences far outweighs pretty much everything else. The movie makes several attempts at adding a bit of humour, with small jokes and funny lines here and there. There's even a moment where the draftees are lined up and Sam Richardson's character calls attention to a guy still head-to-toe in his chef uniform. It's in the little moments like these that the movie tries to be a little light-hearted; but with such an emphasis on the high stakes nature of the plot, coupled with apocalyptic backdrops covered in subtle gore, the comedy never feels like it belongs. The action is also pretty large in scale - and most likely production costs - highlighting that making The Tomorrow War's action big was a top priority; leaving many of the films other elements critically underdeveloped. Watching the aliens get gunned down, blown to bits, and even receive some devastating punches may have been pretty cool, but when it seems to siphon off the quality of the rest of the film, it really makes you wonder if it was all worth it.
It isn't just the movies extravagant action scenes that are to blame for the rest of its failings. What ties the film's out of place comic relief, mediocre plot, and weak cast of characters is a script that could've used a little more work. Much of the movie's dialogue is questionable, to say the least, and results in various conversations and important character moments falling flat. Dan's first meeting with his father is a prime example, as the pair don't really have a conversation but rather a passive-aggressive swearing match with sentences strung together by various cuss words. It is an utterly baffling sequence; so baffling that it made me wonder whether or not the writers have had a human conversation. Other times, conversations become heavily predictable, with several moments where I was able to perfectly determine the next line. This all culminates into characters and conversations that feel incredibly far from reality, with an emotionally undemanding script filled with minimalistic dialogue written by someone with a loose grasp on simple human interaction.
I really did want The Tomorrow War to succeed, but there just wasn't enough there worth watching. It delivers on giving the audience a solid number of blockbuster action sequences, but in doing so neglects everything else that makes a movie a movie. Had it not taken itself so seriously and threw in some more over the top sci-fi action, then its uninspiring cast of characters and shoddy writing could maybe have been forgiven. But alas, for all its exceptional talent, the cast struggles to humanise half-baked characters who are as uninspired as the movie's plot, resulting in a generic blockbuster with all the flash but no flair.
The Tomorrow War is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video