When a phalanx of armed, balaclava-wearing males falls from the skies in the middle of a World Cup soccer match, it’s never good news.
Their commander says to the shocked audience, “We are you 30 years in the future.” “You are our final hope,” says the narrator. Dan Forester, a high school biology teacher, is answering the call (Chris Pratt). Dan has a devoted wife (Betty Gilpin), an adoring little daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), and the usual estranged father (since action heroes rarely commit mass killing without some unsolved psychological trauma) (JK Simmons).
The Tomorrow War, Chris McKay’s time-travel show in which cliches rain as quickly and furiously as bullets, shares Dan’s belief that his life has a specific purpose. In the year 2051, a foreign civilisation is on the point of consuming humanity, forcing a worldwide selection of current-day residents to join the war effort.
The horrified conscripts are dumped on a post-apocalyptic Miami beach, which resembles the Rapture except that the destination is hell rather than heaven. Dan and a group of confreres (including an amusing Sam Richardson and Mary Lynn Rajskub) then fight their way through a flurry of special effects to an undersea laboratory where a military scientist (Yvonne Strahovski) is working on an alien-fighting toxin.
Zach Dean’s screenplay, which draws inspiration from a wide range of sci-fi films — Alien, Edge of Tomorrow, Starship Troopers, Jumper, and so on — gets weirder by the minute. People are thrown into the turmoil with little to no preparation (Richardson’s character can’t even load a rifle). And when preserving the planet necessitates the cooperation of a volcanologist, a 12-year-old boy is the only option. (However, Dean deserves credit for a plot that simultaneously hints at global warming and claims that scientists will save us.)
We’re about an hour into the film before we see any extraterrestrials: They’re so exhaustingly aggressive, bleached, tentacled, and maximally toothy, that it’s a relief to find that, like the Creator, they’re only active for six days a week. With its vulgar speech (“We are food, and they are hungry”), overexcited score, and characters so formulaic they could be cereal-box figures, that’s roughly how long this 140-minute attack seems.
The Tomorrow War is banking on the fact that its flash will blind us to its hollow. After all, why not? For Avatar, it worked.