“The Tomorrow War” stars Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J. K. Simmons, Betty Gilpin, and Sam Richardson. Released on Amazon Prime on July 2, 2021, the film has humanity drafting soldiers from the past to fight against an alien force.
The film was directed by Chris McKay, who also directed “The Lego Batman Movie” and served as an animator for “Robot Chicken” and “The Lego Movie”. If you’re going to start the Fourth of July with a bang, you got to make sure you bring some firepower, aliens, and explosives. Oh, and the ability to travel through time. This latest sci-fi action film sees animator/director Chris McKay taking on the challenge of directing actual people for the first time. Seeing that I loved what he did with the Lego movies, I couldn’t help but be intrigued to see what he can do as a live-action director. Before it went straight to streaming, thanks to Amazon Prime, the film was initially set to hit theaters last Christmas, which would’ve made it a suitable holiday gift for sci-fi fans. However, due to the pandemic, it was rescheduled to July before being taken off the schedule altogether. Based on its marketing, they should’ve left it as a theatrical event. Regardless of this, I was highly interested in seeing the action unfold, primarily because Chris Pratt is involved in something that’s not related to galaxies and dinosaurs. Will it be the perfect way to kickstart the fireworks, or will it start things off with a fizzle?
The story centers on Dan Forester (Pine), a biology teacher and former Iraq War veteran who’s living with his wife Emmy (Gilpin) and daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). They received a mysterious message from the future that humanity is at war with an alien race known as the Whitespikes. The soldiers from the year 2051 search for others from the present to help them fight back, and Dan happens to be one of them. With the help of the other draftees, including Charlie (Richardson), and the adult version of Muri (Strahovski), Dan must assist the future soldiers to save Earth or face extinction. Chris McKay becomes one of the very few directors who shift from animation to live-action, joining Rob Letterman and Jennifer Yuh Nelson. While these two directors did solid work with their animated projects, their live-action debuts were another story. Letterman’s adaptation of “Gulliver’s Travels” took a heavy beating from critics despite its respectable box office intake, and Nelson’s “The Darkest Minds” failed to stand above the other young adult adaptations. Those signs point out that McKay could be the next victim to suffer that similar fate. Fortunately for me, that’s not the case. Even though it’s far from a perfect blockbuster, the film managed to put this intriguing concept to good use by combining the traditional sci-fi action cliches with some well-earned attempts at providing tenderness and underlying themes. Yes, you read that right. There’s plenty of heart to go around amid its series of blazing guns and in-your-face CGI, and the way it was handled was surprisingly satisfying. It was also a bit more dialogue-driven than action-packed, which could lead to a few slow parts due to its two-hour-plus runtime. However, McKay offered the right amount of intensity in these moments to keep things flowing like clockwork. I was also impressed with how he handled the action sequences regarding his direction, clean editing, and solid visuals, especially the finale. There were even a few scenes that somehow mimic Zack Snyder’s artistic slo-mo style. While they didn’t quite match the standards that Snyder set in his films, they still look pretty cool regardless. It’s a shame that we can only view them at home instead of in the theater. The main cast did what they could to provide solid performances, and what they did was good enough in my books. Chris Pratt was just as talented as always as he delivered some good dramatic chops and action chops to bring Dan Forester to life on screen. Yvonne Strahovski and J. K. Simmons also did very well in their roles as Muri Forester and James Forester, Dan’s father, respectively. Sam Richardson was someone I didn’t expect to be good but proved me otherwise. Not only was he enjoyable to watch in certain moments, but he also provided some effective brand of comedy that hardly decimated its intended tone. But what about the Whitespikes themselves? Well, I can tell you one thing. They did look terrifying. The designs worked well in matching the dangerous nature of these creatures and their abilities.
Overall, “The Tomorrow War” may not be remembered fondly in the future. Still, its execution towards its crazy yet interesting premise was acceptable enough to deliver a time-traveling, action-packed thrill ride of the summer. Despite its familiar elements from the other sci-fi films and the two-hour-plus runtime, there’s some entertainment value to be had here thanks to its cast, McKay’s direction, and some well-executed action sequences. This was a decent live-action debut from animator Chris McKay, which I was proud to say after watching it. Now let’s hope that he can keep that streak going with his other live-action projects. If you’re looking for some sci-fi fireworks and you enjoyed Pratt and Simmons from their other works, “The Tomorrow War” on Amazon Prime should be right up your alley.