Movie review: The Tomorrow War (2021)

The Tomorrow War is this generation’s Independence Day.  It’s intense, amazing, with great action sequences, a little bit of humor and emotion.  All characters are relatable, and the outcome is happy.  It is also dumb as heck, with logical holes you could drive a truck through, and it’s completely unapologetic about it.  It will separate the wheat from the chaff.  You’ll get people who will feel smart by pointing out the logical fallacies, and then there’ll be those who simply enjoyed two hours of good, honest action.  I’ll be in the latter category.

Dan Forester, a former soldier and current high school teacher, is watching a football game on TV, when a strange light appears in the middle of the stadium and a group of soldiers materializes.  They announce that they are from the future, where Earth had been overrun by aliens who wiped out almost all of humanity.  The last remains of resistance are asking for people from the past to join the fight, to drive the aliens away.

Due to a very high casualty count, people keep getting drafted all over the globe, and Dan becomes one of them.  Their drop into the future is compromised, and instead of materializing a meter above ground, they show up above the Miami skyscraper rooftops.  Dan is one of the few who survives the fall, thanks to a well-placed rooftop pool, and after an intense skirmish with the aliens he is transported to the frontline command post.  There he finds out that the chief scientist is his now grown up daughter.  She reveals to him that she developed a toxin that would kill all alien males, about 99% of the alien population, but not the females.  She recruits him on a mission to capture a female to experiment on her.

They transport the captured female to the resistance headquarters, but just as they develop a toxin that would kill every alien, the outpost is overrun by aliens.  Dan’s daughter is killed in the attack, but not before she gives the toxin to Dan and asks him to manufacture sufficient quantities in the past, to drive out the aliens in the future as soon as they are spotted.  In the past, Dan realizes that the aliens would not land on Earth in the future; they are already here.  He pinpoints their location to a spaceship frozen in a glacier.  He puts together a ragtag group of former soldiers and his estranged father, they fly to the location, destroy the ship and kill every last alien.

The movie was apparently written by a committee of studio execs.  The story structure, down to interpersonal relationships mimics Independence Day.  We have an alien threat, which is revealed on a global scale.  The world works together to put an end of it.  The hero is a combination of a fighter and a science guy, fights to protect his wife and kid and reconcile with his father.  On top of it, he is a known comedic star, in his rare serious action role.  Chris Pratt is a perfect amalgamation of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. But wait, there is more!  The resistance develops a virus that would kill the aliens.  Well, toxin, but close enough to be the biological counterpart of a computer virus.  Administering the virus requires the sacrifice of a side character, but then everyone lives happily thereafter.

“What’s that?” one of the movie execs said.  “Isn’t this too close to Independence Day?  How about making the aliens more awesome?”  And so, they did.  There was an 80s movie nerd on hand, who suggested the aliens from the 1986 movie Critters.  These aliens also escaped from a prisoner transport and were shooting spikes to kill humans.  The Tomorrow War production team simply made the aliens bigger and scarier but left the rest.  There were other influences as well.  The frozen-in-the-ice trope is as old as The Thing, even though it should be traced to Lovecraft or even earlier.  The mood of the battle in Miami was quite reminiscent of Battle: LA.

As a typical committee work, this movie has enormous logical holes.  It’s never explained why the resistance didn’t use the toxin to at least thin the herd.  Fighting 1% of the aliens would be better than fighting them all.  Even the headquarter defenses didn’t have some kind of toxin spray guns, and bullets against the aliens were about as efficient as those in Starship Troopers.  The logic of sending untrained civilians into a battle where all the world’s future military already perished, would only make sense to me if the goal was to feed the aliens.  My favorite issue, though, was that only people who were already dead in the future would be allowed to travel there.  With only a few thousand people still alive in the future, virtually everyone would qualify, so finding enough warm bodies wouldn’t be as big a problem as the movie suggested.

Despite all this, I found the movie amazing.  It repeated a tried and very successful formula, with upgraded special effects and nearly non-stop action.  Chris Pratt was endearing, and his chemistry, especially with his adult daughter, was amazing.  Some of the best emotional moments came from their relationship as well.  The movie featured just enough humor from several side characters.  J. K. Simmons as Dan’s father was severely underutilized (my biggest gripe), but in the few scenes he was in he grounded the movie and made it relatable to the real-world viewers.  Simmons and Pratt also exhibited great chemistry together, and their eventual reconciliation was just as emotional as the President’s speech in Independence Day, just in a slightly different way.

To watch this movie, lose all your expectations first.  This is pure, unadulterated, and unpretentious entertainment with loads of action.  It is very professionally paced and checks all the right boxes with its humor and emotional drama.  The performances range from solid to excellent, with a minimum of side characters sleepwalking through the production.  Just put this movie on a big screen, sit down, shut down your brain and enjoy for the next two hours.

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