3 out of 5
Spoilers Ahead, but let's face it, you'll figure them all out ten minutes into the film
The films that Chris Pratt stars in are never going to bother the Awards circuit. They are never going to become classics. They are never going to be hailed as beacons of cinema. They are, however, good fun. They are full of action, adventure and explosions (and sometimes dinosaurs). They are also full of Chris Pratt doing what he does best, the reluctant, sometimes hapless hero who saves the day. This new Amazon Prime film would have made an enjoyable popcorn-munching few hours in a cinema but is has been released recently on their platform - so you have to make your own popcorn.
The film starts with Pratt and family watching the Qatar 2022 Football World Cup (that's soccer to my US friends) which is without doubt a plug for Amazon's sponsorship involvement there. The world is stunned when a group of time travelers arrives from the year 2051 to deliver an urgent message, that thirty years into the future, mankind is losing a global war against a deadly alien species. The only hope for survival is for soldiers and civilians from the present to be transported to the future and join the fight.
Among those recruited is high school teacher and family man Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), but in disappointing fashion, we learn through exposition — in the first lines of the movie — that underneath his everyday cardigan-wearing exterior is the mind and body of a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier, because of course. Pratt also played an ex-Navy SEAL in "Jurassic World." Tom Cruise is an ex-Navy SEAL in "The Mummy" reboot. Vin Diesel is an ex-Navy SEAL in "The Pacifier." Toby Stephens is former Special Forces in "Lost in Space." In almost every action movie made in modern times, this clichéd plot device indicates that the character has an especially impressive skill set. I expect Taken 4 will reveal Liam Neeson to have been a ex-Navy SEAL.
Minor grumbles aside, the film does get into the action pretty quickly — in under eight minutes, in fact. However, to accomplish this, the film skims over one or two pretty major plot points in a "blink and you'll miss it" summary montage. First, we learn that soldiers were recruited before the situation became so dire that civilians were needed. Still, it seems that the world's armed forces weren't able to defeat the alien invaders. We also learn why December 2022 was chosen as the point to return to. It could be said that the whole world was watching the World Cup final on television, so the message could effectively be transmitted around the globe. But then why not wait another eight years or so, when weapons technology might be just that little bit more advanced? And what about bringing military hardware to the future? Squadrons of ground support aircraft like A10s or even tanks? Stop asking questions at the back!
One of my bug-bears with time travel that's guaranteed to be ignored in every film or TV show that incorporates it is that the planet Earth moves through space. Take "Back to the Future" for example, Marty McFly travels from the car park of Twin Pines Mall on Oct. 26, 1985 to the Peabody farm on Nov. 5, 1955, in essence the same location. But he traveled in time — not in space — so the fact that the dates are different means that the Earth was in a different place in its orbit. To all intents and purposes, Marty should have appeared in the middle of space, simultaneously freezing and suffocating and destined to continue traveling through the cosmos by way of inertia for all eternity because Southern California was 26 million kilometers further around the sun. I'm sorry, it's my engineering background, or my brain, I'm not sure which.
We learn that to "qualify" to be sent 29 years into the future, you must have died, at some point in the future, before 2051, to prevent a paradox. This is a nice touch and if you've ever seen the not-terrible late-80s sci-fi thriller, "Millennium," starring Kris Kristofferson and Cheryl Ladd, then you know how bad a paradox can be for just about everyone.
The legendary J.K. Simmons appears as James Forester, Pratt's father, but sadly his primary purpose is to provide exposition and set up and a predictable reconciliation later in the picture. Jasmine Mathews plays Lt. Hart, the soldier so prominent in the trailer who actually announces to the world that it faces imminent annihilation. Sadly though, after her memorable arrival, we hardly see anything of her, definitely a missed opportunity there.
The team deploys and is immediately met with disaster as instead of falling just 3 meters or so to the ground when they emerge through time, they are mostly plummeting to their death from what appears to be hundreds of feet up. Thankfully, there's a swimming pool, so everyone with a speaking role so far in the film makes it more or less unscathed.
What follows is a tribute to many sci-fi films of the past as familiarities, either in story set pieces or even production design, crop up on a regular basis. Even the nasty aliens, called "white spikes" have unquestionably been influenced by the "mimics" of "Edge of Tomorrow" although thankfully there's only a passing resemblance and not a direct lift like we saw in with the "fear demon" in "Star Trek: Discovery" Season 3.
Director Chris McKay said in an interview as part of the film's promotion, "Obviously, there's a couple of high watermarks as far as alien designs, it's whether it's the Xenomorphian alien, or whether it's the Predator, but then there's everything else. It's trying not to get close to that, but also trying to find something that serves the purpose of the film and was memorable and on its face horrifying."
Throughout the film, there are subtle and not-so-subtle references to "Starship Troopers," "The Thing," "Edge of Tomorrow" and even "World War Z." Along the way, some reasonably predictable twists are revealed, which we're pretty sure that allowing the characters themselves to hear about would actually cause a paradox in and of itself. Plus, some father-daughter parental issues are thrown into the mix, although thankfully, it's not on the same, ridiculous, off-the-chart scale as Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar."
The action switches in the second act to a seemingly impenetrable fortress at sea, protected by not one. It has two defensive perimeters, plus minefields and air cover, but still falls. It seems no one in the future was able to predict how these creatures could overwhelm such a facility, which is a shame as it seems fairly obvious. And then, just as all seems lost and the way back to 2053 is destroyed, the final act of the movie starts with a twist that's equally as absurd as the "they've always been here" slant on Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds."
Had Pratt's character seen "Frequency" or at the very least "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" he might have been able to come up with at least one other alternative plan of action. Sadly, the whole final act feels rushed and tacked on. The dialogue is kept to exposition only, the tone of the film has completely changed and is suddenly incorporating more comedy and of course we have the "hooray-for-science" element thrown in for good measure. There's even a climate change message that feels like it's been hastily stuck on with sellotape.
Why 3 out of 5 then? Well despite everything, I enjoyed it. In these forwallowing times, it was a noble distraction fro most of its 2 hours and 18 minutes run time.