We’re Being Invaded…Again

San Francisco Chronicle

OK, so it took me a little longer than I thought to get a new review up, but I’ve been a wee bit tired, although it’s a good kind of tired. If you’ve been following my Instagram, you probably know I just went on a wonderful trip to Rapid City, South Dakota with my son and parents. The place is absolutely gorgeous, as are the food and the people, but now I’m back and raring to blog.

Oh, and the TSA’s “What To Bring” list is good for a chuckle if anyone’s interested. Spoiler alert: Nunchucks and Hoverboards are tabu anywhere on planes, but TVs, microwaves, and whole pies are just fine. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. Anyway, off we go…

As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it can also be hackery. When I saw Amazon’s new film, The Tomorrow War, I thought it looked familiar. As in, there’s time travel, there are aliens who want to wipe out mankind, and there are hapless humans who have to rise above their insecurities to save the day. We’ve seen it before. Many times.

Yep. It appears Amazon has gone a wee bit Asylum on us, only with better production values. Or have they? We’re gonna find out. Since the movie’s been on Prime for almost two weeks, there will be a few spoilers.

It all opens at the Foresters’ Christmas party, where a bunch of people are milling around with drinks in their hands. I say “a bunch of people,” because no one seems to be friends or interacts with the family in any way. No one high-fives husband Dan (Chris Pratt) or jokes around with daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). They don’t even say, “Merry Christmas!” They’re just there…milling around, bopping to music we can’t hear. Wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) complains that no one is eating her tuna Santa.

Errrr, of course no one’s eating Tuna Santa, Emmy, because it’s too cute to mess up (heh), and I’m not sure your party guests are real people anyway. I have a hunch some CGI fairy plopped them in your living room for atmosphere. Anyway…

Dan is depressed because he feels as though he’s wasted as a high school biology teacher and he just wants someone important to call him so he can do something big. On the bright side, Emmy loves him and he and Muri have a cute father-daughter relationship, braying at each other like donkeys and bantering back and forth.

The Foresters are in the middle of watching a soccer game on TV when there’s a flash of light and a company of soldiers appears on the field. They need people from the past to fight a war with invading aliens in 2051, and if mankind loses, the human race will be obliterated. Their party guests turn and gasp as one like a Greek chorus but no one moves a muscle. Maybe they’re waiting for the CGI fairy to liberate them from Tuna Santa.

Right off the bat, the movie has a problem, and I don’t mean the invading alien thing. For starters, if people from the past are sent to fight a future war because all mankind is going to go extinct if they don’t, and those people are killed, they can’t produce the people who are asking them to fight the war in the first place. It’s so danged confusing and flawed that it’s laughable. The entire time I watched it I could have sworn I heard Christopher Lloyd’s immortal Doc Brown muttering in the background about the space time continuum.


Thankfully, the movie sort of addresses this: It’s only people who are within ten years of dying anyway being sent into the future because then they have no chance of meeting their future selves. Nice, right? Such a great way to inspire morale among the troops. Well, that and if people don’t honor their draft service their families will have to go in their place.

A year passes, and people around the world are despondent. Only thirty percent of those sent into the future come back, and the ones who do make it are so traumatized they can barely function. There’s also a high rate of mutilations among returning veterans, some of whom sit in on counseling sessions with Emmy.

Dan’s students are depressed and bored because they think there’s no point in going to school if mankind’s going to be wiped out anyway. No one wants to talk about anything, except for Martin (Seth Schenall), who always wants to discuss volcanoes. He’s quite the expert.

Eventually Dan’s turn comes, and he’s fitted with a special armband that will get him back to the past when his one-week tour of duty is up. Emmy begs Dan not to go, and after a vain attempt at trying to get out of his service, Dan and his fellow conscripts are given guns and sucked into the future. Fortunately, he meets an affable fellow named Charlie (Sam Richardson), who provides some welcome comic relief.

Yes, we get to see the aliens. They’re light green and look like a mashup of Demigorgons, lizards, and hairless cats, only they’re all a bright mint green or light brownish. Their blood is green. They sound like geese squawking backwards. And their teeth have teeth.

Being an ex-soldier, Dan isn’t as traumatized as his fellow fighters, but during his mission he meets someone very important from his past. He also obtains something that just might help end the war before it starts. And Charlie gets to pull a chain saw out of nowhere when one of the creatures comes after him and he runs out of bullets.

Maybe it’s just the post-vacay fatigue talking, but I really had trouble caring about anything in The Tomorrow War. I think I even fell asleep a couple of times. It just didn’t grab me, probably because, again, I felt as though I had seen it already. And those creatures were sorta meh.

It does have some good humor in it, especially from Sam Richardson, who really should have had more of a comedic rapport with Chris Pratt. Pratt can do comedy, at least as a straight man, so it would have been cool for these guys to play off each other more.

The Tomorrow War misses so many opportunities. It’s strongest in the latter half because the plot feels like it’s moving forward. Other than that, it’s this constant volley between things happening and characters explaining what’s happening after the fact, as if the movie is a radio show and everything has to be described. It also fails to connect Dan’s present with his past. There might be reconciliation, but the inside jokes and banter don’t seem to survive. It would have been nice to see the cuteness of the first part of the film come full circle.

No, The Tomorrow War isn’t terrible, but it’s not great, either. Its production values would make Asylum green with envy. The acting is passable although the script has too much padding and most of the characters are token throwaways, especially Norah, played by the always cool Mary Lynn Rajskub. Rajskub gets to point her gun at the aliens a few times and bellow a few lines, but that’s about it. We don’t see her after that or hear anything about her.

If there had been less time paying homage to past sci-fi standards and more time focused on the denouementThe Tomorrow War would be a better movie. As it is, it’s the kind of fare that needs a bucket of popcorn and possibly some affable company, because it’s more fun when shared.

Tuna Santa is, of course, entirely optional.

Another review is coming up tomorrow. Thanks for reading, all…

The Tomorrow War is free to stream for Prime customers.

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