Film Critic

Chuck Koplinski is The News-Gazette's film critic. His email is chuckkoplinski@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter (@ckoplinski).

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Why Paramount Pictures sold its sci-fi epic “The Tomorrow War” to Amazon Prime Video is a mystery. Unwilling to wait for theaters to reopen and lacking the foresight to save it for its own streaming channel, Paramount Plus, the studio unloaded it at cost — rumored to be $200 million .

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, but it’s a shame Paramount didn’t wait. This film is the sort of action epic that’s best seen on the big screen and proves to be much smarter and entertaining than “F9” and Marvel’s upcoming “Black Widow.” Kudos to Amazon for scooping it up, though whether it will result in enough of a spike of new subscribers to justify the expense remains to be seen.

Reminiscent of “Edge of Tomorrow,” Chris McKay’s film has the sort of action set pieces that are part and parcel of big-budget films of this sort. Yet what elevates it above others is the intelligence that runs through Zach Dean’s script, as well as its fully drawn characters and the connections between them. You’ll likely be surprised by how invested you become as the story’s twists and turns are revealed.

Chris Pratt is Dan Forrester, a high school science teacher and Iraq war veteran who’s feeling a bit of ennui, wondering what his purpose is. Unfortunately, he finds his answer in the most dramatic way. A brigade of soldiers from 30 years in the future arrives to inform the world that they are losing a war with an alien race and need assistance. Their ranks depleted, they implore the countries of the world to institute a global draft in order to form an army to return with them.

It’s a clever premise, and one that opens up many time-travel paradoxes that Dean addresses with wit and intelligence.

Why Forrester and his brethren are drafted, the reason those who train them are so young and the origin of the aliens that threaten them are plot points many films would gloss over or simply not address.

However, Dean embraces the challenge, and he result is a film that operates on many levels, employing a multi-layered narrative in which the aliens and action sequences in which they are obliterated are not the primary focus, but a periphery element, the characters and their troubles taking center stage.

A clever twist about one hour in shifts the trajectory of the story, as does a revelation at the end of the third act. The movie ends up being two films in one as the final section resets the story, offering up another intriguing adventure.

While so many modern action films are bloated with repetitious action sequences that add nothing to the story, “The Tomorrow War” avoids this by constantly introducing one logical complication after another, providing a sense of purpose for all we see. At two hours and 20 minutes, it doesn’t feel long, each scene building towards a satisfying, poignant conclusion.

If the film has a fault, it’s the aliens. At times, the digital effects used to render them are a little rough around the edges. No matter; the driving force is Forrester’s journey, one in which he finds a purpose for all of his tomorrows by stepping into the future, only to be called back to the past.

Take a chance on this film, and you’ll see what I mean.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on Twitter @ckoplinski. His email is chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.

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