Without self-respect, ‘The Tomorrow War’ fires blanks

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Grade: 1.0/5.0

“The Tomorrow War” opens with a surprisingly witty scene, relative to the film. Ex-military high school science teacher Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) walks into his house, booze in hand for the party he’s hosting. On the television, the 2022 World Cup, hosted by Qatar, is playing. 

It’s a nice detail, but it also makes an apt metaphor for the film. The lonely chyron running along the bottom of the screen looks of a decade long gone by, which would’ve been a cool retro touch, had the film been going for retro (it’s 2022, about to jump to the 2050s). Not to mention the game is exploited for all its worth long before “The Tomorrow War” gets around to its relevance. Details were spared. Like the chyron, the film’s whiffs of invention don’t make it past whiffs — “The Tomorrow War” is fun, but abandons its hints of ingenuity.

The action on the field is the loud soccer you’d expect a loud action movie to drool over. A defender bicycle kicks the ball out of the box to an attacker streaking up the field alone. Then, a portal opens up in the field. Could a scene be any more bombastic? 

Unlikely. What happens in “The Tomorrow War,” after soldiers step out of the portal and announce an alien invasion some 30 years in the future, is similarly loud. To survive the invasion, humanity of the future requires humanity of the past’s help — that means a worldwide draft that the world goes along with. 

In the next two hours and 18 minutes, there is enough gunfire — the effects are nearly cartoonish — and anti-government sentiment to keep Tom Clancy happy. Dan, along with every able-bodied human, gets drafted, launched into the future for a one-week tour and assumes charge of some distraught troops. In between when we first meet Dan — he’s falling out of the sky — and when he lands in the future, he visits his estranged dad (J.K. Simmons) hoping to dodge the draft and, after giving up on that, tells his daughter he’s been called up and has slim chances of surviving. 

Our very ugly, unfriendly alien friends are called white spikes and they shoot white claws from their tentacles. Writer Zach Dean, who penned the similarly page-turning, hunk-starring “24 Hours to Live,” doesn’t give any compelling reason for the film’s central conflict. Eat or be eaten; literally, too, as the only thing Dean bothers to add is that the exponentially reproducing aliens are “hungry.” With a shoot and a bang, Dan is off with his dandy crew to eradicate the scourge — but who needs character development when you can have kaboom

There are more than a few stabs at nobility here. One: “Science” will save your future, Dan reassures a dejected classroom. The class, too lost in a glum future, doesn’t care. Who can blame them when Dean makes Dan spew aphorisms? The scene could have been a petite callback to “Arrival” if Dean and director Chris McKay possessed just a bit more vision, while also expounding on a narrative about future generations and climate change. Yet, McKay’s film lacks what Denis Villeneuve instilled in his. 

“Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049,” both multimillion dollar productions, had the investment in their characters and their conflicts to carry us through. Not that catastrophe needs a well-motivated conflict — Marvel, choosing one of two, has turned its characters into sagas without much love for its apocalyptic plots. 

Crucially, “The Tomorrow War” has neither, and flops in every conceivable way. A time-warped father-daughter subplot is a baseball bat to the heart. Pratt shoots repeatedly at white spikes until the whole thing loops. Dean apparently objects to a self-respecting film. 

Half the film is reminiscent of an arcade game, one where you end up in the back of a pickup truck mindlessly shooting at hordes. It’s fun, so you play for a bit. But by the third time the game asks you to feed it coins, the fun is up. Alien-blasting can only entertain for so long. 

Dominic Marziali covers film. Contact him at [email protected].