In a sea of samey IP and loop-de-loops of committee approved blockbuster cinema, it is truly a rarity to see profound original spectacle pictures. Even when we do, it can oftentimes bog itself down in its own franchise building prospects to the point where it becomes dead on arrival. Hot off the truly sublime The LEGO Batman Movie, director Chris McKay delivers Amazon Studios’ The Tomorrow War with singular ambition and aplomb.
In the year 2051, humanity is losing a war against a deadly alien species, causing the powers that be of the future to travel back in time to recruit soldiers of the present. Only these soldiers consist of everyday people, led by high school science teacher Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) who travels to the future in the hopes of turning the tide. This idea of normal people fighting against extraordinary odds is the driving force behind The Tomorrow War, and the key to dispelling any cliches inherent in this genre. Rather than being a badass vehicle for alien mayhem, we’re presented with the reality that something like this would really f*cking suck.
A desperate government recruits people it has no faith in, only to (literally) drop them headfirst into an apocalypse with no training. In the film’s best and most terrifying sequence, we watch as these ordinary warriors plummet from the sky with deadly consequences, hardly any of them surviving at all. Despite star Chris Pratt’s offline reverence for the military and US of A, The Tomorrow War depicts a country with wanton disregard for its own people, throwing bodies at an unwinnable conflict. It’s a choice that, intentional or not, adds a layer of surprising depth and social critique to what could otherwise be noxious, pro-military nonsense.
The film isn’t interested in depicting its heroes as anything but people. Chris Pratt sheds the boring machismo of Jurassic World in favor of something that feels more in line with Guardians of the Galaxy, in which smug humor masks real depth. It’s not as poignant as something like Guardians (few blockbusters are), but humor is the key to humanity, which The Tomorrow War never forgets.
The film, thankfully, also extends this same humanity to its other characters, particularly, Yvonne Strahovski who gives the single best performance and provides The Tomorrow War‘s core emotional intelligence. Sam Richarson of I Think You Should Leave is also a delight, giving the film its funniest moment in a chaotic stairwell firefight. J.K. Simmons gets to be J.K. Simmons, which is to say he’s a scene-stealer and joy to watch, as always.
That’s not to say all is perfect; the choice to make Pratt’s character ex-military detracts from the film’s ‘Normal People v. Aliens’ conceit, shouting hoo-rah directions and finger signals that make you wish for a film more exclusively dialed on those ultra normal people like Sam Richardson’s Charlie. Nonetheless, Chris McKay’s live-action debut overcomes its occasional hiccups by homing in on its themes of a world out of time, where the only way to live is together, for one another. Only then can there be hope for a better tomorrow.