What happened here? Chris McKay's first live-action feature, The Tomorrow War, is void of the wildly anarchic spirit that he brought to Robot Chicken and The Lego Batman Movie. Borrowing from everything James Cameron has made, this is an oddly joyless affair aside from an occasional wisecrack from Chris Pratt's Dan or the scene-stealing Sam Richardson.
Dan (Pratt) is an ex-military science teacher who gets drafted to time travel into the future, 2051 to be exact, and fight a war against aliens that are wiping the human race from the planet. Think Starship Troopers without any of the satire. The Tomorrow War is practically military propaganda in its view that anyone can be molded into a soldier and one science teacher can be the key to victory.
The film is messy which is partly due to Zach Dean's screenplay. Scene of exposition after scene of exposition bog down the momentum as every detail about the technology used to be able to time travel is explained. Curiously, it seems that Dean has never seen a time-travel movie as the film gleefully ignores the fact that if the past is altered, so then would the future be altered. It is a frustrating experience to see none of the characters in the film question this possibility, one that feels baked into just about every other time travel plot.
Occasionally the film has some good ideas. There is a nice moment once the world has been notified that the human race may end in the near future. The students in Dan's class ask what the point is of learning if there is an expiration date on the human race. The creature design, what are referred to as "white spikes," is solid and inventive. Some suspense is created as the audience tries to figure out along with the characters how these alien creatures work.
These moments are too few and far between. The film is unnecessarily long for what it is. Pratt can be a charming star but the filmmakers decide to squash all his charm in favor of making him a standard hero. It is a shame. Sam Richardson is very funny and charming, so much so I wish he were given the lead role. The film borrows heavily from so many previous films that it can't help but feel like a copy of a copy of a copy. It favors dull action sequences and laborious world-building in favor of developing its characters. There is a subplot involving Dan's daughter in the future that is initially interesting but goes nowhere. If the aliens want to take us out, this film does little to inspire a fight.