Mladen and Del review ‘The Tomorrow War’

Image courtesy of Amazon Studios.

“The Tomorrow War” Starring Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, Sam Richardson, Keith Powers, Betty Gilpin, J.K. Simmons and others. Directed by Chris McKay. Too long (2 hours, 20 minutes). Rated PG-13. Amazon Prime.

Mladen’s take

“The Tomorrow War” would be an A if I could look past its derivative plot, two smulchy scenes (one on a beach and the other amid a ferocious battle with an alien matriarch), it’s PG-13 rating and that it’s a product of juggernaut Amazon, which is more of a threat to Earth than the beasts portrayed in the movie would be.

But, I can’t, so this film gets a B-, though the acting is good and the movie’s pacing decent despite its 3,000-hour run time.

Here’s the plot summary, which Del will correct: An intergalactic pet transporter carrying really mean quadrupeds that remind me of the creature in “Cloverfield” crashes in the past on our planet near the North Pole. Global warming thaws the tentacled critters, which also remind me of the mimics in “The Edge of Tomorrow,” aboard the spacecraft in the future. They proceed to nearly take over the planet after eating all its meaty life, including people. Flash to the present and the future, “Tenet”-like, comes to us via a time travel device because Future Humanity needs Current Humanity to help our species survive. How? By Current Humanity conscripting its people as soldiers to fight with Future Humanity against the carnivorous alien invaders. The now‑soldiers are transported in waves to fight in the Tomorrow War by the time travel machine.   

The good thing about “The Tomorrow War” is that the time travel paradoxes created in the film are comprehensible.

The bad thing is that the director uses the time travel to insert a who-cares subplot about our protagonist, Dan Forester played by Chris Pratt, and his family. What’s hard about making a sci-fi action yarn without encumbering it with people relationships? I didn’t like Forester any better because he was frustrated with his life as I am with mine. I didn’t like him any better because he was a father as am I. Just give me a story that focuses on what would come naturally to most of us if animals tried to eat our children (and us). We’d fight until one or the other side wins.

If you like the other movies I mention above and masterpieces such as “Alien,” “Aliens,” and “The Thing,” you’ll enjoy “The Tomorrow War.” But, for a sci-fi guy like me, this movie is just one of many stopgap measures between the good stuff.

I also can’t shake the feeling that “The Tomorrow War” was put together somewhat hastily to make Bezos even more money. I don’t know, maybe he underestimated the cost of flying to the edge of space in his personal rocket and “The Tomorrow War” will help him pay the unexpected bills.

Del’s take

Mladen goes on about how he doesn’t care about people, but he really does. Beneath that so-called shriveled turnip of a heart lies the soul of a man who is not ashamed to messy-sob after hearing Netflix changed the ending of “The Notebook.” So I don’t take anything he says very seriously, especially when he fusses about relationships sullying “The Tomorrow War.”

If you removed the relationships from “The Tomorrow War” you’d be left with something like a documentary about ants in the Amazon. Not much fun there. I’d rather be blowing up spaceships and squabbling with my dad about shaving off that Unabomber beard.

“The Tomorrow War” is a perfectly adequate summer escapist movie, in the spirit of “Independence Day,” “Edge of Tomorrow” (a vastly underrated film) and “Battle: Los Angeles.” It is long on action, short on logic, and more entertaining than its length might suggest. In fact, I was shocked to learn it was 2 hours and 20 minutes. It didn’t feel like a two-hour movie.

Mladen summed the plot and you’ve likely seen much of the movie already through the ads. My advice is to turn off your brain and enjoy the cool special effects. The story offers nothing new, but then the drive-thru at McDonalds is always around the block so “new” is not high on the list of America’s entertainment palate. And Chris Pratt is, in my opinion, a huge miscast … but hey, there’s always another “Guardian of the Galaxy” or “Jurassic Park” to fall back on.

My gripe with Pratt is that he does not, in this time or any other, evoke the brawn and swagger of an action hero. He’s more teddy bear than Terminator, a plump Pillsbury Doughboy with a machine gun.

I’m a fan of J.K. Simmons but his role as Pratt’s father is reduced to an algorithmic cipher, just another piece in the blockbuster puzzle that appears to work but doesn’t. Simmons plays the role with a strange lack of emotion that made me wonder if he too wasn’t giggling about the absurdity of it all.

As the movie explodes and gore-sprays to its predictable conclusion you’re left wondering how much money this thing will put in Jeff Bezos’ pocket. From what I hear it was originally earmarked for theatrical release by Paramount until Uncle Covid and the Pandemics arrived in town, and somehow fell into Amazon’s pocket. At least they didn’t charge extra for Prime clients.

Hey look, the movie’s fine for what it is – two hours of mayhem and a chance for mankind to vent his violence on something other than the environment or himself. Don’t expect anything new or different; it’s as predictable as that glowing menu at the Mickey D’s drive-thru.

I agree with Mladen; the movie is a B-.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

“Jurassic World” Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and Vincent D’Onofrio. Directed by Colin Trevorrow. 124 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Del’s take

Mix equal parts “Jurassic Park,” “The Lost World” and “Jurassic Park III.” Boil for two hours. Voila! You’ve just prepared an inoffensive addition to the Jurassic canon, one that breaks no new ground but commits no great sin.

“Jurassic World” is the vanilla custard of the series, meaning it is a simple dish that offers a taste everyone can love. It presents an everyman hero; a beautiful damsel in distress; children whose peril reunites their parents; and a big, scary dinosaur, all of it frocked in a thin cloak of subtext about the hubris of genetic engineering and corporate greed. In other words, just another day at the Democratic National Convention.

Chris Pratt’s Owen is an animal trainer who is brought to the new Jurassic World theme park by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), his former love interest who serves as a kind of Effie Trinket for the park. Seems their newest creation, Indominus rex, has broken out of its paddock and is eating the tourists. Very bad for publicity. The hope is Owen can figure out what Indominus will do next so they can recapture the beastie and return it to its cage.

But as everyone but the characters in all Jurassic movies have learned, things go awry as Claire’s nephews, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) became stranded in the weeds with Indominus in hot pursuit, and a slyly amoral Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio)  maneuvers and manipulates to take over the park from its helicopter driving CEO, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan).

Pratt manages his role with minimal swagger, and Claire transitions from a sweet corporate mouthpiece to somebody who has discovered the benefits of work/life balance. D’Onofrio walks a thin line between evil and ambition. Of the kids, Simpkins evokes the most emotion, from his energetic embrace of the park to a heartbreaking acknowledgement that his parents may part company. Robinson is an unlikable, selfish teen who only comes around once the teeth snap a little too close.

I could nitpick this movie to death. Claire spends her time running through the jungle in a dress and heels, which my female friends assure me is about as likely as balanced budget. Some of the flying reptiles feature a T-rex head, a weird and unexplained departure from previous movies. And we have yet another set of siblings with parents either divorced or on the verge, and somehow their experience of being dinosaur kibble is supposed to mend the frayed bonds of their parents’ relationship.

Overall, the movie serves up nothing new. In fact, it seems frankensteined of scenes and themes from the previous films. But for some reason that did not bother me much. The Jurassic movies have never been anything more than an amusement park thrill ride, and this one certainly provided its share of stomach-looping chills.

Throughout the first and second acts we are told the park must offer a new “asset,” aka a new dinosaur, to stimulate the public’s interest and spike ticket sales. That could be said of the Jurassic franchise as well. And while “Jurassic World” is no Indominous rex of a movie, it has just enough of its DNA to take a huge chomp out of the box office.

I give it a solid B.

Mladen’s take

Websites dedicated to movies fail to list the most intriguing actors in newly released “Jurassic World.” They are: Charlie; Echo; Delta; and Blue, the velicoraptors. More on the hunter four-pack in a moment.

“Jurassic World” is good enough to be entertaining.

There’s a bit of suspense in the film, though, unfortunately, no jump-from-your-seat moments.

The human characters are likable, though not enthralling. Owen (Chris Pratt), the animal trainer, is charming, if not hypocritical. Claire, the corporate number cruncher and Jurassic World theme park manager, is beautiful as hell, but stiff. The two boys incorporated into the movie to draw one of the demographics that tends not to watch this sort of flick – teenaged girls – do an OK job. But, frankly, if any of the folks mentioned above had been eaten, I wouldn’t have cared.

There’s the obligatory animal rights morality tale. The dinosaurs, de-extincted through genetic engineering or not, are creatures worthy of respect and compassion, not merely assets owned by a big mean corporation that runs the amusement park that erupts into mayhem when a hyper-predator escapes to threaten 22,000 well-healed guests.

And, there’s the old adage, don’t fool with Mother Nature unless you want to get the horns, or something like that. Here are people manufacturing dinosaurs as though nothing had happened 20 years earlier (see “Jurassic Park”). 

The visual effects are excellent approaching terrific. If only them CGI folks would have given the theropods and sauropods in the film color and patterns. No stripes, no spots, no feathers, no counter-shading. There was nothing to give the dinos a pinch of flair.

Still, the raptors. It’s all about the raptors from my perspective.

About the height of a man and smarter, the bipedal predators are imbued with a whole lot of character. Yes, they were trained by our hero, Owen, to respond to commands, but he could never quite be certain that Blue will follow orders. All the pack’s matriarch had to do was snort or bark and, bam, Charlie, Echo, and Delta would have Owen carved and ready to swallow in the blink of their reptilian eyes.

The scene in “Jurassic World” with the raptors being used as bloodhounds is absolutely stunning. Man, if these bad girls were half the hunters in real life as they’re depicted in this movie (and the three that preceded it), they were the Mesozoic era’s apex predator. Allosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, the toothy saurischian with the big sail on its back my ass. Velicoraptors are the bee’s knees of evolution. Damn that asteroid.  

I could see why one of the characters, Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), in the movie wanted to turn raptors into … never mind. Don’t want to spoil it for you. By the way, Hoskins can also be credited with one of the most obscure references ever placed in a movie. Quick, why is Tora Bora significant? Thought so. You have no idea.

“Jurassic World” should be seen at the theater. The film is a solid B, but don’t spring for the 3-D version. All the panoramic shots look silly. A blue helicopter flying low above a lush green jungle looks like a 1/48th scale UAV buzzing in front of a painted landscape. Thousands of people walking along the amusement parks main boulevard look like a bunch of figurines with operating legs. A 2-D viewing will be satisfying enough. Use the money you save, $3, to buy a 1.5-ounce drink at the concession stand.     

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.