Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Tomorrow War

Spoiler-free!

Chris Pratt's first time producing a film is exactly the sort of movie we'd expect him to produce. It casts him as a nice but slightly malcontented suburban dad, wishing for a little bit more to life in the year 2022. Then people from 2051 show up, saying that they're losing a war with evil aliens in their time, and ask for help fighting them. It's not long before a worldwide draft is instituted... and we all know Pratt eventually gets his chance to "be more" as he wishes.

Wish granted! You get to risk your life to save humanity itself! Probably more than he had in mind...

This is a blockbuster flick, no doubt about it, and the movie is proud of that fact. But it's also a time-travel oriented scifi movie, and it takes pains to explain itself on those fronts. It includes neat details in its worldbuilding, like, the people who travel back in time are young (not born yet in 2022) and they only recruit people who die before 2051. Cuz, you know, the space-time continuum. It's explains its time-travel method succinctly, and it's not without holes and paradoxes, but the rules are clear, and that's all we ask for.

Scientific explanations breezed-through, the movie gets right into the action. It's about sending nearly-untrained civilians into battle with animalistic aliens that shoot spikes out of tentacles (not to mention their sharp teeth) so there's a lot of general mayhem, but fortunately Pratt's character served in the army before, so he takes the lead and is assigned a mission, which leads to more specific encounters catered to the movie's needs of plot-momentum, and memorable action set pieces. None of the action was outstanding, but the aliens were cool and frightening, and the characters fighting them weren't cardboard cutouts, so it did the job being entertaining.

Surprise surprise, stakes that are imbedded in the plot are more effective than tacked on ones!

I can take or leave action most of the time. Unless it's Tom Cruise doing impossible feats on screen, it's hard to impress me. But no matter the genre I always go in for characters. And it's been a while since a brazenly extra-buttered-popcorn blockbuster presented characters that I cared two straws about. It helps that Chris Pratt is Chris Pratt. His acting consists mostly of hamming dramatic looks for the camera, but his own genuine personality bleeds through so well that it works anyway. Next to him, Yvonne Strahovski and J.K. Simmons are good and fantastic actors respectively, and they bring their characters to life as well. Between the three of them (and Edwin Hodge who was good but needed more screen time) they imbed the action with stakes worth caring about.

It got to the end, and I really was leaning closer to the screen, wondering what was going to happen. Most of the plot was predictable—I'm proud of myself for calling one slight twist early on—but the way they do the predictable things were always fresh and unexpected. The predictability played into the traditional blockbuster feel. It had a Cowboys and Aliens vibe to me, another movie that knows how outlandish it's being, but still goes in 100% and makes it all work. The three-act structure is clean and by-the-book which I love to see in movies like this, and it doesn't fall apart in the final act. In fact, the final act was my favorite section of the movie altogether.

Sad that cliché has become a dirty word. I want to say this movie was cliché and mean it as a recommendation!

Every blockbuster should go out on a bang. Even if it drives home its message with a heavier, less nuanced hand, that's better than having no message, or having a pandering sermon instead of something uplifting. And pulling off a few clichéd maneuvers is infinitely preferable to robotically manufactured originality. This movie goes by an outdated playbook, and I couldn't be happier. There's heart, humor, characters with arcs, a plot that a human person with human feelings made up with their human imagination, and Chris Pratt lends his warm affability to the whole ordeal. A genuine blockbuster in 2021. Time travel is real after all!

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