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The Tomorrow War (2021)

- THE blue CORNER REVIEW

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blue Corner Review July 3rd, 2021

"The world's under attack in the future, with people being sent forward in time to help defend what's left of the human race. If you can dial your brain down for a while and ignore the numerous plot issues, it's a fun enough action sci-fi movie."

EXPECTATIONS: Medium

Below average trailer, but it promised an alien invasion and Chris Pratt in the lead role.

THE GOOD: Excellent mid-section, interesting alien design

THE BAD: Plot holes all over the shop, underdelivered on the concept presented

RATING: 5.5 / 10

If you can dial your brain down for a while and ignore the numerous plot issues, it's a fun enough action sci-fi movie.

If there's one thing that appears to be able to perplex movie audiences and writers alike, it's time travel. It can certainly be done successfully, but the number of films which tie themselves up in paradoxical issues or plot-hole hell tends to substantially outweigh those which successfully pull off a coherent, logical story, fitting and working within the rules they've decided and established upon for that particular universe. For mainstream releases, many of those that succeed tend not to dwell on the mechanics or attempt to overly explain things, leaving the idea of predestination paradox, infinite timelines and multiple branching universes up to the viewer, should they chose to do so. We've seen this work recently with Avengers: Endgame, for example, although with Marvel now flirting with expanding their own 'multiverse' now that the audience accepts that this is part of their cinematic world, we see that they're digging themselves into a hole the more they try to explain their own rules. This is much the same as every new Terminator sequel further breaks and ruins the original story as they seek to bleed every ounce of that horse dry.

Our basic introduction to the core characters shows family life in a short scene which has a TV in the background - with this showing what appears to be Scotland playing Brazil in the 2022 World Cup final, we know that logic and any sense of belief is to be checked out at the door. It feels like a fairly solid family setup, which I'll come back to later, during which we see Dan and Emmy Forester (played by Chris Pratt and a grossly underused Betty Gilpin respectively), along with their daughter Muri, appearing to host some kind of party with an assortment of nameless background friends. Mid-match, a portal of some kind opens up on the pitch, with a small squad of soldiers stepping through, speaking to the world audience to advise that they're from 29 years in the future where humankind is under attack.

Through some quick exposition we're told that the earth has come under attack from an alien race, with those remaining now nearing defeat in their time. To combat this, a time portal has been created which allows 1,000 people to be jumped into the future to help out with the battle - something they hope which can turn the tide. Time is constantly moving forward, so the leap back and forward is fixed at 30 years - those in the future can't go back further, just as the flow of time means that we can only jump forward to what's essentially the present moment. With humankind due to become extinct, a global effort begins, starting with the best and most highly trained being sent through the portal to help battle the aliens. Showing just how poorly the battle has been going, this quickly turns into a worldwide draft, 'sold' as a week-long tour - after seven days, any survivors will automatically be returned to the current timeline. This doesn't appear to be all that common (a rate of 20% is noted, but it's unclear if that's a hopeful metric designed to give a level of comfort to those being drawn in), with most that do make it back going into substantial therapy and hospital care.

When ex-military vet turned biology teacher Dan gets the call, we see a strangely cryptic interview and assessment done by some of the team from the future, revealing that our titular character's due to die before 2051 - seemingly this is a requirement for any candidate, in order to prevent any sort of paradox. Each successful candidate's fitted with a bracelet that will allow them to be pulled back from the future once their tour is done, with the added extra bonus of exploding if the wearer doesn't show up for duty. This last part was something which I thought would be used against the human effort during the course of the movie, but instead it's simply a plot mcguffin to introduce us to James Forrester (J.K. Simmons) - Dan's estranged father who's happily making a living from removing these bracelets and keeping them transmitting (something which creates an issue in itself, given that the owners never show up to travel forward - I'd have expected the self-destruct signal to be sent immediately if that was the case). It's made clear from the brief interaction that the father will undoubtedly be involved again later, so it's highlighted that he happens to have access to a plane from the yard he's working from.

Our training segment for this latest batch of recruits is used to show three things - that a decision has been made not to show or provide analysis of the aliens our recruits will be facing due to the level of fear it will apparently create, that the level of training isn't far off a simple point-and-shoot exercise, and to introduce the several characters we're supposed to have any kind of emotion for when they inevitably die in the course of the impending future battle. Dorian (Edward Hodge) is shown to be our 3-time time travel veteran, volunteering for a further tour with some of his regular team - Tank & Diablo. Dorian's certainly the most interesting of the secondary cast - whilst his regular companions are given just enough time to show that they'll be some of the early casulties, along with the few other named members such as Norah (Mary Lynn Rajskub) who will make up the cannon fodder, it's Charlie (Sam Richardson) who ends up with the most screen time. Charlie's essentially the goofy comedic relief character, but written without the charisma, wit or charm needed in a role of this kind where it's being played against a generally serious plot and overall tone.

We see many of the recruits show up in standard work gear or outfit, including a full chef's outfit, albeit coupled with a rifle. My initial reaction here was one of puzzlement - these people clearly had some prep time (they had a week's notice to prepare, hence the bracelets), so would be likely to be travelling out in the most suitable clothing they could find to survive their tour - a chef apron and hat not generally being part of this list when you're about to risk your life for a week against a hostile alien force. Then it dawned on me that this looked akin to any modern-day team combat or Battle Royale videogame where the players can  equip any kind of skin, outfit or equipment that they want - we were hopefully about to see a movie take on the imagery of one of these games, and I was desperate to see at least one of them dawning an oversized sporting mascot outfit or a bizarre cosplay costime. Extra training of some kind was due for the recruits - presumably some kind of work on tactics - but, with an emergency signal being received from the future, the group is sent forward in their current state.

Of our 1,000 strong team most are seen to perish near instantly as they rain from the sky above some of the remaining towerblocks - some kind of damage sustained to the portal device here in the future having caused their materialisation to be drastically off-course. A handful (essentially everyone who's had a speaking role thus far) are lucky enough to land in the pool of one of the buildings - some less fortunate crashing into the roof just beside it, whilst the rest continue the fall to street level. Sadly, most of those that perished must have been the ones wearing the more interesting outfits that I was desperate to see involved in the impending action. That 20% survival rate is already well out of the window.

As a comms is received from future military force giving instructions on their mission - Colonel Muri, clearly going to be an older version of the previously introduced Muri Forrester, Dan seems to take up the roll of leader near instantly and without dispute. Dorian makes it clear that he will survive, and that Dan should switch to his small team given the likely slaughter of the remaining recruits, but everyone moves out together as a seemingly coherant group despite the lack of experience for most of our remaining party. Their mission to secure a number of scientists and materials at a (conviently) nearby labratory is handled well, showing the group slowly enter and assess the building - the signs of distruction being clear, but the aliens remaining out of sight for a while to increase tension. When they do finally make their appearance, the resulting running battle is shown to be brutal, relentless and - all in - superbly done. Going back to my earlier reference of expecting a modern-day team combat or Battle Royale videogame, the intensity felt akin to one of my first experiences of Left 4 Dead, showing the ever-shrinking team fighting against a inexorable opposition force which beats them in both number and ability - I can't help but feel that the inclusion of Dan weilding a fire axe and one of the chracters using a chainsaw were part of the earlier noted homage.

Alien design seems to have stagnated in recent years, with most films appearing to churn out familiar feeling CGI monsters at this point - as such, I have to credit Tomorrow War with an interesting, suitably brutal look for their creatures, likely made better still by the slow introduction where we get to see the aftermath of earlier battles first, rather than just showing them clearly from the outset. The 'White Spikes' are seen to be efficient, merciless killing machines, being just as lethal at close range as they are from afar. It's easy to see why the battle's going poorly for humankind.

With our new recruit count now down to just three - Dan, Dorian and Charlie - the latter confirming that he had simply hid, hence him still being around - it's time for some exposition to flesh out our two side characters slightly and reveal that Muri is Dan's daughter, just incase we hadn't twigged already. In addition to being acting Colonel, Muri herself states that she 'holds a lot of titles', seemingly being personally in charge of creating what they hope will be a weapon to defeat the alien intruders - a virus, based off an Alien queen. The transporting of people from the past appears to have been intended to buy the human race in the future some much-needed time to perfect this virus, with the plan seemingly having been for someone to then bring this back to the past where it can be mass produced, then brought back again to the future to end the war. Given that most of humanity is dead by that point, I'll skip the seemingly obvious better plan to simply deploy this at the source for now.

If there’s one thing that appears to be able to perplex movie audiences and writers alike, it’s time travel.

As the slim remains of humanity succumb to the alien invaders, managing to protect the magical time travel tower until Pratt can travel back to his own time, it's a strange reception for him when attempting to pass on the all-important virus - those in charge appearing to consider the war over, rather than showing interest in fully developing this virus for when the Aliens arrive. Rather than a massive debrief involving the heads of each country and remaining military, having served his 'tour', Dan's simply allowed to depart the base and return to his family. Cue some shoehorned and somewhat cringy exposition where a trip to the school he taught at reveals that the Aliens have likely been here all along, with the few clues available revealing that they're likely currently burried under ice layers within Russia - something which will eventually release them as the ice there continues to melt. Clearly it's going to be down to our remaining group - Dan, Dorian and Charlie, along with the future soldiers stuck here who believe in taking a trip over there to deploy the virus in order to prevent the war - although we need someone with a plane. Good thing we met someone that fits that criteria earlier, and can roll this into a father-son reconsiliation.

The third act, given that it follows the end of human civilisation, seems a lot smaller in scope - a simple plan to find the alien ship and infect everything inside with the virus. Finding the ship appears to be easy - the primary school kid having done rather well at locating the likely location. Akin to the original Alien story (pre-retconing), the craft itself suggests that the aliens responsible for bringing about our demise are either bio weapons or prisoner cargo held onboard, rather than this ship having brought them here intentionally. Rather than having a clear plan to infect each of the aliens held inside at the same time, however, we have several jabbed before the ship's even been fully searched - this ensures that we get to have a further, if somewhat unnecessary (there was absolutely no rush - they could have sat for a moment and come up with a better plan), final battle, with Dorian and most of the team sacrificing their lives in order to ensure that the ship and remaining contents doesn't make it out. Inevitably, however, one does - the final, final battle is then set up, with Dan and his father tracking and taking down the sole alien survivor (could be wrong, but I'm sure this was due to the same alien queen that we see captured in the future, from whom the virus was created?).

Pratt is as endearing as always despite playing a more solomn character than usual - he gives exactly what you would expect of him, although I'd perhaps argue that he's better served when he has someone to bounce off. Playing the stoic ex-vet drawn back into action, Pratt doesn't have quippy one-liners, leaving any of the lighter attempts at dialogue to the otherwise needless Charlie whilst Dan burrows his frow on-screen. Yvonne Strahovski's more than able to carry off her role as future-Mari, although she's perhaps slightly too well manicured for one of the few surviving members of humanity who's been at war for most of her life - by comparison, at least they added a visible scar to one of the solider's sent back to the past. At the core this is a film about family, although as hinted at in my second paragraph, I couldn't accept Dan as being someone who would apparently walk out on his wife and daughter as he felt unfilfilled in his job - as revealed to us by future Mari. Dan appears to hold his daughter above all else from what we've seen, although his promise to her that this wouldn't happen again only serves to provide another avenue for paradoxes.

The crux of the movie revolving around creating and sending the toxin sample back to the past, if shown to be the aim of the overall story - sending people from the past to act as soldiers simply to buy more time from the aliens whilst they work on obtaining said sample - would have helped make the film flow better, giving context and reason to those jumping forward beyond being sacrificial pawns for a week during what's publicly known to be a losing battle. Setting this up as the need for people to jump forward would not only made more sense, but it would have also provided a logic for the survivors in the future to be protecting the site at all costs (that it also houses the magic time travel machine felt somewhat redundant given that they all know they were so close to losing the war). Even without knowing where the creatures came from, the aim of creating a weapon to use when they arrive feels like a more practical use of the time travel component of the story, rather than blindly sending forward a thousand or so people at a time who potentially have no real or useful skills to be used.

Our jump into the future, starting badly for the group from the outside following a technical glitch which sees most crashing into the ground at high speed, is certainly the highlight of the movie, quickly setting up our key players and their respective roles as they move forward to rescue what's hoped to be a group of survivors. From the introduction of the alien creatures to the way the group slowly clear the building, the director does a great job at ramping up the tension quickly - the alien attack is suitably brutal and relentless, showing just why the human race is nearing it's demise. This section of the film, from the arrival into the future to the eventual arrival of the tactical strike, made for great viewing, reminding me somewhat of the intensity of Battle: Los Angeles - it's just a shame that there wasn't more of this to follow. As a popcorn flick it's probably too serious, and as a serious sci-fi movie it's not as deep as it could or should have been, but it's still enjoyable enough - they've taken a chance with something that's not an existing franchise or IP, so straight away that's points in the bag, and managed not to get too boged down by irrelevant matters, politics and topics that other studios may have attempted to saddle it with. Dial your brain down and give it a shot.

BLUE CORNER'S RATING FOR The Tomorrow War (2021): 5.5 / 10

Official The Tomorrow War (2021) Movie Poster
 

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"The fight for tomorrow begins today."

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Running Time: 138 min

BBFC Rating: 12A

Release Date: July 2, 2021

Distributer: Amazon Prime

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