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It's so charmingly bad it's great
It's probably for the better that liking comics and creature features is no longer something you need to keep hidden from mainstream society. I regularly see adults — functioning adults, possibly on the way to a job! — reading superhero funny books on the train. The top grossing motion picture of all time is Avatar, about weirdo blue aliens who ride winged beasts. Black Panther, part of the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, was nominated for a best picture Academy Award. The nerds, and I consider myself of this cohort, have won.
But maybe we also lost something?
I remember a time when this was all disreputable garbage. And so, I suspect, do the director, writer, producers, and stars of The Tomorrow War, a gloriously moronic picture debuting on Amazon Prime on July 2.
Its very first shot after the company logos is of Chris Pratt, bug-eyed and mugging, floating through some cheaply rendered purple haze. He may as well be shouting "whoooooAAAAAAooooohhhh!!!" like an 8-year-old romping around on a jungle gym. We'll soon learn he is being plopped into the future to battle malicious, squibbly monsters with French's mustard-colored blood.
A narrative rewind explains the deal. Pratt is Dan Forester, a retired combat vet who can't quite seem to land a civilian job. At a Christmas party where everyone is glued to the FIFA World Cup, he watches is shock as the game is interrupted by visitors from an unknown realm. They are actually soldiers from Earth's near future, and they need recruits to battle space aliens who are poised to destroy all of mankind 30 years hence.
Even though the premise is laid out directly on the soccer field, we then cut to a TV news montage to re-explain it for the extra dense. Society is quickly plunged into chaos as people are drafted to fight this uneven conflict, and the casualties are enormous. Everyone sinks into a funk: You are either going to get shipped off to die, or you might get lucky and live to see humanity's extinction naturally.
Dan Forester, a family man, is just trying to get by. His brainiac young daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) has panic attacks; his wife (Betty Gilpin) is a social worker trying to help the few limbless survivors of tomorrow's war.
And then his number comes up. He's sent to the briefest of basic trainings, where there are mild shades of Starship Troopers, then sent off to fight the "white spikes." He makes pals with Sam Richardson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Edwin Hodge, and a few others. They've been picked to be something of an elite squad in the future, to do reconnaissance work of some sort.
Not much is explained about the science except for two cool concepts. They can only jump back and forth between two shifting points. Picture two rafts in a river, moving forward simultaneously. In other words, you can jump from now to 30 years from now, but if you spend a week there, you can only jump back to seven days from now. Re-read that sentence again, I swear it makes sense.
Also, the people selected to go to the future have all been confirmed to have died between now and 30 years from now. This ensures that they won't paradox-it-up on the other side. Similarly, all visitors from the future to "now" are under 30. None have been born yet. Far out.
But a few things happen when Dan Forester gets sent forward. First, the battle is raging so badly that the traveling mechanism is damaged, causing much destruction and mayhem upon landing. (This scene is quite intense!) Second, the inhuman monsters are very difficult to kill, and easily chomp through the humans. Third, the commander in charge of it all 30 years from now? Well, you can probably figure that out on your own.
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The first hour of The Tomorrow War is really quite dumb fun. The second half pumps the brakes on the wacky sci-fi and just goes in for gross-out action. There are a lot of slobbery alien beasties spraying their ooze all over the place.
There are also occasional moments in which Pratt has to do some real acting, and he fails miserably. This is, if you are in the right frame of mind, a feature and not a bug. This is not a movie that should engender any actual emotion in you other than laughter.
Originally The Tomorrow War was meant for theatrical distribution, but Paramount wisely tossed the ball to Amazon for a direct-to-streaming situation. It works far better at home, where you can run to the kitchen for another can of beer when there's a break in the action. There's no reason to be embarrassed for liking a movie this stupid in the privacy of your own home.
TV Guide rating: 3/5
The Tomorrow War premieres Friday, July 2 on Amazon Prime Video.