A combo of brains, brawn makes ‘The Tomorrow War’ a summer blast



“The Tomorrow War” is the kind of movie where a character asks another in a perilous situation, “does anyone know someone familiar with volcanoes,” and the main protagonist either nods or says, “I think I do.” That’s the world that Chris McKay’s film is living in, and I find it to be an inviting place to spend a couple of hours in during a warm summer day.

The end of the world/alien invasion genre has been tried and tested (with mixed results) since “Independence Day” redefined the way these films should look and play 25 years ago, but some of the same tricks still apply–like a sense of humor and reliable leading man. “The Tomorrow War” has both thanks to Zach Dean’s fast-moving yet intelligent script, which sees the modern world receive the kind of news that wouldn’t be too surprising to some: aliens have invaded earth decades in the future and every man and woman is needed now to time travel to that spot in order to ensure Earth isn’t wiped out completely. Pratt’s ex-military and current science teacher/family man represents the perfect recruit: someone who can handle a weapon, lead a tactical team through a war zone, and use a microscope.

It’s that signature concoction of brain and brawn that helps Pratt produce another crowd-pleasing and humanistic action hero, something that seems to come to him naturally. It’s not a particular line delivery or the way he handles an action sequence; Pratt has that “it” factor that every movie star back in the 1980’s and 90’s had. You either believe he can do it or search for ways he’s not convincing. With Pratt, it’s a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek “oh, this is happening to me” wide-eyed charisma blended with stoic calm. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s led a career that started in comedy with “Parks and Recreation” or the fact that he is marrying into the Schwarzenegger family, but roles like Dan Forester fit him like a glove.

McKay’s film doesn’t mess around when it comes to alien design or special effects, the product of Paramount Pictures setting this summer blast to launch in theaters originally before COVID-19 redirected it to Amazon Prime. The switch may have hindered some of its big-screen appeal (and there’s plenty), but the shock and awe can still be digested just fine at home. I’d go to the bathroom first though, because editors Roger Barton and Garret Elkins didn’t leave much fat on this running time, which stretches to 138 minutes yet doesn’t feel that long. (For comparison, Marvel’s “Black Widow” felt a lot longer than two hours.)


Here’s the thing. “The Tomorrow War” is located in the sweet spot of popcorn summer film escapism, but it’s got a good brain up top. The science of an alien invasion doesn’t scramble the viewer’s brain here, as Dean bypasses too much lab time in favor of character development and credible action. There are a few curveballs in the script that provide an emotional core, especially between Pratt and Yvonne Strahovski’s fellow soldier who is also fighting against time.

In addition to those two, Sam Richardson’s brainiac provides some comic relief and Betty Gilpin gives the thankless role of worried, doting wife something extra with her eyes alone. Strahovski may not have aged much since NBC’s “Chuck,” but her Colonel isn’t just a woman who can lead colonies of soldiers into a suicide mission. The actors give the roles exactly what is needed. Any film with J.K. Simmons gets better in an instant, and he gives Forester’s estranged dad extra resonance here. Precise casting can pay off in a big way.

Shall I nitpick just for the sake of proud film criticism? I could, but I’d rather not and just advise you to gather the kid’s teenagers around the television tonight (make sure it’s big) and enjoy this one. While any home-viewing screen will be too small to fit its massive scope, the heartfelt notes added to the human relationships along with the terrifyingly real alien threat should give everyone a reason to appreciate old-school action thrillers that have all but disappeared these days.

“The Tomorrow War” reminded me of those early cinema experiences with my dad where we spent the whole film glued to our seats and the whole ride home talking about it. There’s no preaching or overly complexity to its rhythm. It’s just the end of the world with Chris Pratt aiming to save it while maintaining a perfect stubble. I can dig it.