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OPINION | PLATFORM DIVING: Terrifying aliens in 'The Tomorrow War'

by Courtney Lanning | July 2, 2021 at 6:33 a.m.

Chris Pratt has another sci-fi hit on his hands. The man who went from "Parks and Rec" to "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Jurassic World" now travels to the future to fight the most horrific aliens I've seen since xenomorphs.

"The Tomorrow War" could have easily been a by-the-numbers movie with a cool concept and little else to back it up. I fully expected this movie to be some Great Value version of 2014's "Edge of Tomorrow." After the soulless horror of "Without Remorse," I worried Amazon had bought the distribution rights to another dud.

Instead, we get a mashup of all sorts of science fiction hits through the years. This movie's DNA contains traces of "Alien," "Terminator," "The Thing," and strangely enough, a tiny portion of "Eight Legged Freaks." And the way it blends all those elements together left me thinking, "Huh ... I actually enjoyed that."

Pratt plays a military veteran who, after multiple tours in Iraq, now teaches high school science. Thankfully he's a better science teacher than Mark Wahlberg in "The Happening."

The film doesn't take long to bring its main plot to the forefront. Soldiers from a few decades in the future arrive in a soccer stadium with a warning. Aliens are attacking, and humanity is losing ... badly.

People from the past are drafted, and that includes Pratt's character, Dan Forester. Then they're sent to the future to fight the scariest aliens. Few return, and by the time Dan makes it to the future, there are fewer than 500,000 people left on the globe.

STRAIGHTFORWARD SETUP

The setup seems fairly simple. Fighting aliens in the future, right? And if you're expecting there to be any big twists that normally accompany time travel, rest assured it really is as straightforward as it seems.

But the future war stuff only makes up the first two-thirds of the film. The final piece, which is more reminiscent of "The Thing," is a whole different ballgame, though the film merges these wildly different segments well.

In the past, Dan is married to a woman named Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and has the cutest little daughter, who is determined to follow in her father's footsteps as a scientist. Pratt has good chemistry with his family, and they're believable as motivation for him to survive the war and come home to.

(There's this throwback to "Malcolm in the Middle," where Dan, while digging, accidentally cuts a buried cable and offers his daughter $10 to take the blame for it. She demands $20, and he relents.)

J.K. SIMMONS

It's Dan's estranged father, James Forester, who causes him misery. He's played by national treasure J.K. Simmons. Simmons is such a fantastic actor to behold, whether he's in "Spider-Man," "Palm Springs," "Invincible" or "Whiplash," I love his performances.

And here he upstages Pratt. It's not Pratt's fault. He's a solid main hero, but Simmons playing a grizzled Vietnam veteran with a belly full of rage and conspiracy theories just overtakes him.

He's got this great line during a fight with Dan, when his son is talking about how he wishes his father had been there for him. And with all the sass he can muster, Simmons says, "I wish Stevie Nicks would show up in her birthday suit with a jar of pickles and baby oil."

Fair enough, Simmons. Who wouldn't wish for that?

When you watch this movie, you might think Simmons is wasted since he doesn't go to the future. But hang tight. He's important to the final leg of the film.

In fact, the final team-up with him and his son is a really cool moment in the movie.

WHITE SPIKES

When Dan gets to the future, the movie's action goes haywire. There are so many creative camera angles to dial up the tension (good job, Larry Fong), and "The Tomorrow War" really draws out the revelation of the aliens, known as "white spikes."

As Dan leads a group of soldiers through a ruined Miami Beach, there's almost a zombie apocalypse vibe to the movie with a small group of survivors. And when the white spikes are finally revealed, they're these ghastly pale creatures that look like a cross between a spider and an octopus.

It's easy to make some terrible-looking aliens. See: the first cut of "Justice League." But these beasts terrified me. They're fast, they're strong, and you can unload an entire clip of ammunition at them without killing one. The way they zoom up walls and barge through doors lickety-split; the way they can run, fly, and swim; the absolute ease with which they destroy helicopters and hummers make them this movie's strongest asset.

Doubtless some people will have nightmares about these white spikes (and I'll probably be one of them). They're just the perfect killing machines. And when you see them in action and how easily they annihilate entire squads of troops and military bases, it's easy to believe they chomp the human population from 8 billion to 500,000 in just three years.

INTENSE ACTION

The action sequences as Dan tries to survive in this alien-infested city while his troops drop like flies are brutal and fast. Then, without warning, you get to watch Dan and others do science in a lab for about 15-20 minutes.

And of course, like every other movie that has time travel, the main character does the cliche "ask about X sports team winning the championship." I roll my eyes every time.

Once the film is finished showing you science, the aliens attack, and it's like "Armageddon" for a bit, in that, every possible thing that can go wrong does.

But I think it's great because "The Tomorrow War" will make you feel like you have no time to breathe. Then, out of nowhere, it'll let up for a bit and let you process all the carnage you witnessed.

The final third of the movie loses a bit of the seriousness the future portion had, but I don't hate it. It just moves the film a few inches closer to "Tremors," with some of the silliness and improbability.

And Simmons gets slapped with the nickname "Conspiracy Santa," which I love.

The final showdown with the alien queen just left me screaming at my television, "Just die, already!" It's so intense it'll make you clench your teeth and shake your fists. These aliens are real bastards that don't give up easily. And the white spike queen might even be ornery enough to kill a xenomorph queen -- might.

YADA YADA

Now, with all the praise, this movie does have a tendency to yada yada some important moments. It jumps from "future soldiers are here" to "go fight the future war" in record time, delivering exposition via my all-time most hated method: cable news clips. Then, in another scene, the white spike queen goes from raging in a cage to suddenly sedated in chains without showing how any of that happened.

The time travel explanations don't really make a lot of sense. And Dan's final narration is corny as hell. I wish they'd just clipped that.

Those things aside, "The Tomorrow War" is an action-packed summer blockbuster that comes with some of the most horrific aliens made for the big screen. Simmons and Pratt are solid, and when Yvonne Strahovski is in the movie, she delivers some big Emily Blunt energy.

If you've got Amazon Prime, today's your lucky day, because "The Tomorrow War" comes with the price of admission. Strap in, and get ready for a wild ride.

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