‘The Tomorrow War’ x King of Cups

This isn’t a Chris Pratt hit piece, but how can I put this so you pick up what I am putting down: The Tomorrow War should’ve stayed yesterday’s pitch meeting.

Helmed by seasoned animation director Chris McKay (The LEGO Batman Movie), this ambitious Amazon Studios pandemic-era direct-to-streaming acquisition features Pratt, who also executive produced, as a Green Beret-turned-high school biology teacher struggling to get ahead in his field of interest, who is drafted from Somewhere, USA, circa end of 2022 to fight in a war against a decimating alien species known as Whitespikes in 2051. It is a cool, intriguing premise muddled by a slothful script ripe with potential that oft picks the low-hanging storytelling fruit. The flick is textbook white and centered so around the Chris Pratt-ness of it all.

The first act introduces the actor as Dan Forester, his heteronormative family (Betty Gilpin, the Emmy-nominated star of Netflix’s now-defunct GLOW, plays his wife), and his daddy issues, with Oscar winner J.K. Simmons as his estranged, Vietnam-vet father, an anti-gov survivalist with dated metrosexual jokes. It’s Christmastime and the Foresters are in the middle of hosting a World Cup final watch party (because soccer beats football, OK), when Earthlings receive the future’s sci-fi-y S.O.S. live on a Qatari pitch. This feels so particularly wanton now, given the globality of Amazon Prime Video, but then again, this movie was made for the multiplex.

Oh well. Not important. Dan is drafted, and he better not think of dodging, lest he wants the missus or their young daughter to take his place.

With the present thrust into chaos, and the future on the losing end of things, the plot thickens, and the powers that be purposely keep the audience from some of the particulars, like, y’ know, what do these Whitespikes look like, anyway. This does build a nice level of anticipation. And Sam Richardson (HBO’s Veep) and Mary Lynn Rajskub (TV’s 24) are also here, for quirks and to help oh-so-basically explain the time-travel mumbo jumbo.

Of course, best laid plans, right. Dan and his new group of friends have answered the call, but the world doesn’t end on a schedule, and soon, before they can even complete Day 1 of training, our heroes from future present have to get to an incredible invention called the Jumplink to travel down the forward river of time for a crucial mission in Miami Beach, the last stand. It is there that Act II unfolds, with its fearsome interspecies battle set pieces and the added drama of Dan & Co. (mostly Dan, though) having to assist a brilliant scientist (Yvonne Strahovski, from hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale) in her desperate quest to rewrite the fate of humanity.

NBD.

Dan couldn’t get a job at the beginning of the movie, but in the end, he needs to make sure this war never happens…and everything about The Tomorrow War all but spells Pratt will manage. Try as it might, the flick cannot overcome the stock quality of Pratt’s Dan Forester, family man sent through time to save us all.

Yawn.

The Tomorrow War would have been infinitely more successful had it invested more in advancing the game of, say, its Black characters, whose raisons d’être unfortunately do vibe beyond-expositional at best and typically unidimensional at worst. Natch, that’d have required Pratt to take on a more supporting or sacrificial role here…or to make room for, oh my, a queer (character or star) to take the lead.

Alas, no. The movie’s third act bends over backward to appear inclusive, but it crumbles under the weight of a Q rating on the decline. Perhaps, it’s time Pratt – who last fall was voted Hollywood’s least favorite Chris on social media – remember tomorrow’s not just for him, especially when it’s not the best written one, y’ know.

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