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‘The Tomorrow War’ script suffers from a bad case of Screenplay 101-itis

Of all the hunky movie stars named Chris (Evans, Hemsworth, Pine, Pratt), Chris Pratt is the funny one, the goofy one, the everyman whose personality trumps his brawn. It was Pratt who turned a Marvel afterthought, Guardians of the Galaxy, into perhaps the most influential of all the Marvel Comics movies. How? By injecting a free-wheeling sense of comedy into the otherwise heroic proceedings.

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In Pratt’s latest movie, The Tomorrow War, which he also executive produced, he is again very heroic but, sadly, personality-free. His character makes a few half-hearted attempts at humor but they fall mostly flat. His character, Iraq-War vet Dan Forester is, most of all, earnest and pained and brave and bland. It’s hard to imagine why Pratt would want to take on this role, which has little use for his natural charm and easy-going personality.

Pratt has said he wanted to find material that was original. And the film deserves some credit, I suppose, for NOT being based on a book, a comic strip, a video game, or another movie. But what it does draw on seems to be every generic sci-fi/creature feature movie convention ever concocted. That’s not what “original” should mean. Good source material would be preferable to this mish-mash of the trite and the overly familiar.

I fault the screenplay more than the actors or director, and that might not even be the screenwriter’s fault. Apparently, the first script was deemed too Children of Men dark and the decision was made to go more Independence Day light. In the end, the film does justice to neither movie.

The plot begins with a promising time travel premise. Humans from the 2050s interrupt our lives as we know them to inform us that the human race is losing a war with aliens. Humanity has been nearly wiped out in the future and what our eventual descendants need are more bodies to fight. Hence, a mandatory worldwide universal draft is instituted immediately. The draftees time-travel to the future to fight the aliens for seven days. If they survive the week, they’re returned to present-day Earth. The downside? Only 30% survive.

Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) has to leave behind his wife and young daughter when he’s drafted, and the rest of the film consists of him battling hellacious aliens called White Spikes. His (and humanity’s) odds look grim when he lands in the future, and they seem to get grimmer and grimmer as the movie goes on. But these giant, fast, creepy-crawler creatures with voracious appetites and long spiky-ended tentacles at least provide the movie with an engaging enemy.

What the film does best is keep the tension up. The audience is on high-alert for the duration of this overly long (2 hours and 20 minutes!) extravaganza. Granted, at times it may feel more like a video game, but mostly the elaborate action set-pieces are pleasingly effective adrenaline rushes.

So, what’s not to like?

The script suffers from a bad case of Screenplay 101-itis. Embarrassingly heavy-handed foreshadowing, too obvious character arcs, abrupt interjections of lengthy conversations about personal feelings in the midst of perpetual life-and-death battles, and an embarrassing “lessons learned” platitude at the end of the movie that’s a real groaner.

The real lesson learned? Stick to the creature feature next time and leave humanity out of it. The future will thank you.

The Tomorrow War was originally slated as a Christmas 2020 release for Paramount. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Paramount sold the movie to Amazon Studios, which is releasing it on Amazon Prime on July 2, 2021.

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