Amazon Prime Video’s “The Tomorrow War” has all the elements one could hope for in a Summer science fiction action film. An alien invasion, time travel, an improbable everyman tapped to save the world, an even more improbable family throughline, and lots of action set pieces. The one thing it somehow manages to have forgotten in the mix, however, is heart.
Chris Pratt plays Dan Forester, a former special forces soldier turned school teacher who is trying to get a research grant to become a full-time scientist. In the midst of his career turmoil and inter-family strife, his family is watching a soccer game on television when a group of soldiers from the future appears on the pitch to tell the world that in just a short time aliens will invade, and the future needs help from the past in the form of sending soldiers through time to help fight back the onslaught.
Cut to several years in the future and the world is grabbing any Tom, Dick, and Harry they can find and giving them a few days accelerated basic training and jumping them into the future on a tour of duty lasting only seven days. If they are still alive after that week, they get brought back and dismissed.
It’s a sound enough idea, with smatterings of everything from “Independence Day” to “Edge of Tomorrow” to “Starship Troopers.” Writer Zach Dean, who has had two prior feature films under his belt continues with his earlier trend of taking dramatic characters and trying to drop them into a delicate family relationship web. But as with his earlier films (“Deadfall,” “24 Hours to Live“), he doesn’t really wind up giving us characters that the audience can actually root for (let alone care about).
As Forester gets called up, we get quick family moments, such as a parting with his daughter (which again has echos of yet another far superior influence, “Interstellar“), and leaving his wife, played by Betty Gilpin (“GLOW“). But between the dialogue and the various performances, there’s little reason to care about these people or their internal struggles. When an emergency call from the future causes his cohort’s training to be cut woefully short, they’re all taken out on a field and jumped into the midst of a firefight in the future. Their training is so short, many don’t even know how to use their weapons.
The lack of empathy with the characters is only exacerbated by various leaps of story logic and character actions which causes [presumably] unintended guffaws. While many sci-fi films build in comedic moments, they tend to try to get the audience to laugh with them rather than at them. Pratt’s performance feels almost like a Star Lord (Peter Quill had never left earth), and it’s hard not to see his characterization peeking out through the midst of Forester’s reactions.
Yvonne Strahovski (“The Handmaid’s Tale“) does her best to try to make something of the adult version of Emmy Forester (Dan’s daughter). She constantly feels like she has been plucked out of a far better version of this story. The ideas are all there, and in better hands and another few script doctoring passes, it might have been something far more solid. But as it is, it’s fine for a few hours of distraction, especially if one already has Amazon Prime Video, so it can be watched for free.
This is not something to rush to see, because it’s likely within a few hours of watching it, it’ll have been forgotten. There’s no dislike of a film like this, more a feeling of disappointment that it had so much more potential than it eventually found.
“The Tomorrow War” is rated PG-13 and available free via Amazon Prime Video now.