War movies rarely boast heroes battling alongside their own daughters.
It’s but one of many wrinkles behind “The Tomorrow War,” the Amazon adventure starring Chris Pratt, Sam Richardson, Betty Gilpin and J.K. Simmons. Pratt play a soldier-turned-teacher-turned soldier fighting space aliens out to conquer Earth.
The Amazon original feels like a theatrical blockbuster-in-waiting (its original destination), from the splashy F/X to the four-quadrant pleasing storyline. It still bowed on small screens nationwide. As the late Prince might say, it’s a sign o’ the times.
It’s hard not to take 9 factors away from the film, which might have struggled at the box office given it’s an original story, not a reboot, remake or sequel.
Pratt Is the Real Deal
Sometimes Hollywood hastily christens actors as The Next Big Thing. Sorry, Josh Hartnett, you make the cut here. That isn’t true for Pratt, who couldn’t be more endearing in every second of the film. He hits his action movie beats with perfection, but his expressive face serves him well in the movie’s emotional sequences (and they are legion).
We knew Pratt could tackle dinosaur trauma and purple space villains already. Here, he’s the main attraction and he never disappoints.
J.K. Simmons, Jacked Oscar Winner
Somebody’s been hitting the gym. Hard. Why is the gifted character actor suddenly flooding the screen with biceps? The actor says he’s trying to keep the home fires burning with his off-screen regimen. Either way, it’s shocking to see the 60-something star flexing more than his line readings.
The Dumb, It Hurts
Blockbuster movies aren’t meant to be analyzed like Oscar-bait drama. It’s about the explosions and FX wonders, not the sophisticated story beats. Still, some moments in “The Tomorrow War” make you roll your eyes like a slot machine. The one sequence that stands out? A wiz kid student whose not-so-secret passion helps save the day. Cute? Sure. Realistic? Hoo boy!
Acting Matters (Even in Blockbuster Films)
Arnold Schwarzenegger proved screen presence and acting chops are two very different things. He had the former, and it made him Hollywood royalty for a spell. Ironically, he’s grown in the latter department, as seen in his nuanced turn in “Terminator: Dark Fate.”
“The Tomorrow War” boasts Yvonne Strahovksi of “Chuck” fame as the main character’s grown-up daughter. Pratt and Strahovsi share several critical scenes together, the kind you’re tempted to fast forward to get to the action.
Most won’t, though. Their tenderness toward each other heightens the film’s dramatic template, and each is clearly engaged by the material.
‘Alien’ Still Reigns Supreme
The creatures threatening to extinguish humanity are nasty, all right. These multi-limbed ghouls look like the fiends making life miserable for Emily Blunt in the “Quiet Place” franchise.
They still can’t match the title character “Alien,” the 1979 shocker that set the bar impossibly high for creature design. Many films have tried to lap “Alien” in the monster department. All have failed. “The Tomorrow War” joins that expansive group, and there’s little shame in that.
Spoiler Alert! “The Tomorrow War” packs a global warming sucker punch. The film doesn’t overwhelm audiences with the message, but it’s loud, clear and part of the industry narrative. It’ll be interesting to study films from this era in 30 years, no?
Flawed Heroes Rule
Pratt’s heroic character is brave to a fault, kind to his family, generous to both friends and colleagues and inspirational when needed. Which is often.
Humanity hangs in the balance, don’t you know.
And yet there’s a key story twist mid-movie that simply doesn’t click. Why? Because Pratt’s character is too good, too perfect for it to make sense. Had the screenplay added some grit to his role, a moment or two where he flashes a temper or retreats from his perfect persona, the reveal would work better.
Science Nerds Unite
“Tomorrow War” delivers action, guts and glory. It’s the film’s calling card. Yet the screenplay spends time extolling the virtues of school, education and, of course, science. It’s folded tenderly into the action, and it taps into the film’s key father-daughter connection.
Some blockbusters pay lip service to winning the day with brains, not just brawn. “The Tomorrow War” goes the distance with that theme.
Time Travel Hearts Story Holes
It’s one of the most compelling story devices at our disposal, and we’ve seen some Hollywood classics come from its near-perfect use. Think “Back to the Future” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.”
Here, time travel is a critical part of the story, since soldiers from the current era trek to the future to fight the space aliens.
Still, that gimmick suggests time loop issues that could cause your head to spin. “The Tomorrow War” has no time to tease out those answers, but viewers might do just that during the weaker segments of the film.