I can still remember standing in line in Tempe, Arizona waiting patiently for the theater doors to open for a sold-out first showing of Independence Day.
Even more, I can vividly recall the rush of euphoric emotion when I exited more than two-and-a-half hours later.
It remains one of the Top 5 best large-scale, humans-versus-aliens movies ever made, along with Aliens, Edge of Tomorrow and Starship Troopers.
What’s that? Oh, I only named four films?
That would be because the fifth film is The Tomorrow War, which wasn’t released until right now, almost 25 years to the day that Independence Day debuted.
And, yes, it’s that damn good.
We’re talking next-level good from story to script to an escalating series of insane action sequences and finally to some of the best CGI you’ve ever seen this side of Jurassic Park.
It’s a stunning achievement when you consider that director Chris McKay previously worked almost exclusively in animation and stop-motion, and writer Zach Dean has only two other screenplays to his credit, both of them mediocre genre thrillers.
The Tomorrow War is a game-changer as far as the type of big-budget blockbuster films that likely will be released exclusively on a streaming service. And it should scare the piss out of Hollywood.
Forget Zack Snyder’s much ballyhooed Army of the Dead, which was two-and-a-half hours of subpar suckage and a huge letdown for Netflix. The Tomorrow War is the real deal. The only downside is that it legitimately deserves to be seen in a theater on the biggest screen possible, but I was happy as hell to watch it from my couch.
In terms of story, The Tomorrow War checks all the boxes. Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) is a former military soldier turned high school biology teacher. He yearns for something more, some meaning or sense of accomplishment beyond his life with his wife and daughter, Muri. Dan also has some seriously dark issues with his father (J.K. Simmons).
In December 2022, in the middle of a huge sporting event, a portal opens on the field. Soldiers walk out. They claim to be from the future, 28 years to be exact, and they have terrible news: Mankind is losing its grip on existence against an invading, marauding alien species. They have 11 months to turn the tide, or else there will be no future for generations to look forward to.
In response, every government of every nation on Earth starts sending soldiers into the future to fight. They all die. Next, every government of every nation implements a mandatory civilian draft.
Within two years, the future global population has dipped below 500,000 people total, and the survival rate of draftees is 20-percent.
What’s nice about The Tomorrow War is that, early on, it’s bleak as fuck. It shows a side of war that few films dwell on, which is the fallout for families, the anxiety for new soldiers, the grim future for young students who aren’t sure how to process what’s happening to their world.
When Dan gets drafted (another nice touch is that anyone whose actual death date falls prior to the date in the future that they are jumping to is immediately enlisted), that’s when The Tomorrow War kicks into high-gear, action-wise, and the next two hours are just pure white-knuckle thrills.
McKay, the director, does a stellar job teasing out the appearance of the aliens. Newly drafted soldiers aren’t even shown a photo of what they will be fighting because most would avoid the draft if they saw before they jumped.
Best of all, the build-up has a payoff. The aliens themselves are terrifying, and original, like a hybrid between a Demogorgon from Stranger Things and a Thark from Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter series. They’re also difficult as crap to kill.
The actual time-travel-portal gimmick is perfectly rendered and distinct enough to separate “The Tomorrow War” from other sci-fi films.
The humor is subtle, but effective, with both Pratt and Sam Richardson getting the best lines.
And, of course, there’s a twist packaged in the form of Yvonne Strahovski, as the leader of the failing resistance fighters, and it’s a doozy that allows both her and Pratt some really nice acting moments throughout the film.
Some people may see my 4.5-star review and think I’ve gone mad. But here’s the deal: This is as good, if not better, than almost every movie you’ve seen in the past couple of years.
Yes, it has moments of pure cheesy schmaltz (don’t even get me started on the unnecessary voiceover at the end), but it’s no different than the cheesy schmaltz served up by Michael Bay or James Cameron, and it works in the context that such moments are presented here.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.
This story was originally published by CityBeat sister paper Creative Loafing Tampa