The Tomorrow War is a variation on the much better Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow. Pratt plays, Dan, a high school biology teacher sent to battle aliens in the future. Those aliens are mean and nasty, but they are no match against Dan and his plucky family. Even though this movie is completely redundant, the movie is entertaining enough to justify a viewing, particularly if you already have Amazon Prime. (You’re already paying for it, so why not?) Chris Pratt acts convincingly, no matter what the movie throws at him, and proves himself a worthy heir to Bruce Willis. Recommended.
Stop me if you’ve watched this movie before. A man who cracks wize suddenly and unexpectedly finds himself thrown into a war against aliens hell-bent on killing every human being on earth. The aliens are almost indestructible, impervious to the endless rounds of bullets humans fire at them. The plot involves time travel, and the humans emerge victorious, led by the wisecracker and a feisty female soldier. That would be Edge of Tomorrow, released back in 2014 and starring Tom Cruise. The Tomorrow War isn’t exactly the same movie, but close enough to give you a strong sense of deja vu if you’ve watched Edge of Tomorrow beforehand.
The Tomorrow War (a.k.a. TW) begins quietly, with high school biology teacher Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) arriving at his suburban home to a Christmas party being thrown by his loving wife Emmy (a criminally underutilized Betty Gilpin) and adoring daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). Dan is totally geeked over being a finalist for a research position at a private company, and takes the call believing the job is in the bag. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be choose someone with private sector experience over Dan. One leveled trash can later, he heads back into his home, stunned, and slumps onto the couch to join Muri, who’s watching a World Cup soccer game. (I suspect the inclusion of soccer was to help broaden the appeal of the movie, since American kids could give a rip about soccer.)
Dan tells Emma, “I am meant to do something special with my life”. Oh Dan, be careful what you wish for. The signal from the World Cup game on TV goes wonky, and at the match a wormhole appears, and a team of armed soldiers emerge from it. They look like terrorists, but their leader, Lt. Hart (Jasmine Mathews) tells everyone that they are from thirty years in the future. They are fighting a war against an enemy that is not human, and they are losing, and need help from people in the past to fight alongside them.
A montage of news footage explains what happened in the year since the soldiers from the future appeared. A global draft was instituted to send ordinary folks into the future to fight the “Whitespikes”. (Only 50% of the military can be sent into the future for some reason.) Even though thousands of troops have been sent into the future, only 20% return after a week’s tour. Earth’s population in the future is now estimated at 500k. Dan is still teaching high school biology, dealing with students who could care less about photosynthesis when their future is dark. (A student whose obsessive interest in volcanoes is introduced, and yes, he proves to be very helpful in the third act.)
Dan is soon summoned for duty. While getting outfitted with his jump bracelet, he learns that he dies eight years into his future, so he’s safe to make the jump. Presumably, his imminent death ensures he won’t cause any problems by running into his future self. Since future Earth only has 500k people left in it, it seems unlikely that the vast majority of people selected for service would have that problem, but oh well. Just in case you thought Pratt stopped going to the gym since Avengers: Endgame, his character reveals a washboard stomach underneath his cardigan. Dan must be the only high school biology teacher in recorded history with a six pack.
Dan is set to jump in 24 hours, and out of desperation, visits his estranged father for help. James Forester (a totally pumped J.K. Simmons) is a former Vietnam vet, who left Dan after returning home from that war. He explains that he, Dan and his mother were better off that he left, but Dan isn’t buying it. Dan decides against his dad’s help, figuring that it’s better to jump to certain death in the future than to deal with his dad’s baloney in the present. Obviously James will have an important role to play in this story, because you don’t include an Academy Award-winning actor like J.K. Simmons in the cast if he’s only in the movie for a couple minutes.
A day later, Dan reports for duty and hears that there is no training. Everyone is taught to point their machine gun and pull the trigger. That’s it. Also that the aliens they are fighting are so terrifying, the future troops decided to not show the draftees what they’re up against. If they did, they’d never agree to go. (Given the incredibly low return rate, the draftees should have realized that they are essentially cannon fodder anyway.) Dan makes the acquaintance of two fellow draftees, Charlie (Sam Richardson), a hilarious motor-mouth, and Dorian (Edwin Hodge), who’s gone through two tours already and enlisted again.
With everyone armed and ready, Dan and his company, R-Force, jump into the future. Something goes wrong, however, and they are de-jumped too high, far above a city building. Dan and a few others survive, only to have to deal with the Whitespikes. Like the aliens in A Quiet Place and Edge of Tomorrow, they are big, fast, ugly and nearly indestructible. Machine guns are practically useless against them, and I couldn’t stop thinking why humanity didn’t have anything more advanced than a machine gun thirty years into the future. (In twenty years Apple has evolved from the iPod to the iPhone 12.) Also, the draftees should have been outfitted with Kevlar. In addition to the above qualities I mentioned, the Whitespikes can also shoot spikes out of their tales. A little Kevlar would go a long way in the future, for sure.
R-Force’s mission is to help a team of scientists escape a building where they are under attack from the aliens. Dan finds all of them dead and prepped for dinner, Colonel Forester asks him to retrieve vials of a serum under development that will kill the aliens. It works against males, but not so much against females. (Like a queen bee, a single Whitespike female yields a ton of males.) After bringing the serum back to base, Dan learns that Colonel Forester is actually Muri, his daughter (now played by Yvonne Strahovski). She’s upset with Dan over what he did after he returned from his deployment. Dan’s shocked to learn that he left home, separated and then divorced Emmy a year or so later. Thankfully, Muri breaks “the code” of time travel movies by telling Dan all this, so that he’s able to chart a new future for her and the rest of the human race when he returns.
For the most part, TW plays things relatively straight for an hour and forty minutes. In the last half hour, TW unshackles itself hurtles directly towards action movie ridiculousness. Dan also breaks the time travel code and tells Emmy everything, and she helps him figure out how the aliens came to take over earth. (If you never took climate change seriously, think again.) Both the student with the love of volcanoes, as well as Dan’s father James return to play very important roles in defeating the aliens. How ridiculous is the last thirty minutes? After watching this movie, ask yourself, could that team of soldiers realistically find the aliens in what that vast Russian wasteland without running out of gas? In the final confrontation between humans and non-humans, TW shamelessly rips off the Alien movies (pick one) to a large extent. (X-Files: Fight the Future also came to mind.) Regardless, our heroes battle the aliens as best they can, at one point crashing a snowmobile into one of them.
TW is filled with strange tonal shifts in the movie. On the one hand, there’s the plot, where people are essentially being sent into the future on a suicide mission. Aside from a few quips by Dan and Charlie, everyone takes the situation very seriously. (The only movie I could think of with a more grim future is The Terminator.) Then, 1:40 minutes in, the shackles are removed and Dan, Charlie and even James get into the act. I suspect that after Pratt was brought on board, the script was punched up a bit to alleviate the overall grim tone of the move. And honestly, the movie works in spite of itself.
Pratt is such a darn likeable and malleable actor, he’s able to pull off everything in the script, from melodrama to terrifying action sequences to jokey asides. He’s a modern-day version of Bruce Willis, and I mean that as a compliment. As Charlie, Sam Richardson is hilarious, as he was in Werewolves Within. He’s nearly worth the price of admission by himself. I’ve read that he’s great in Veep. (Someday I’ll binge all eight years of that series.)
JK Simmons is priceless as Dan’s father. With his huge beard and ripped biceps, Simmons’ transformation is incredible. If he keeps up his physique, maybe he can take on Spider-Man himself as a super villain. Simmons delivers several of the best lines in the movie, and his retort to Dan yelling “Die!” to an alien is hilarious. (JK Simmons should be in every movie, period.)
At the end of TW, I couldn’t help but wonder what an alien race planning an invasion of Earth would think after watching this movie. C’mon, you know they do. If Galaxy Quest taught us anything, it’s that our movies and television shows are “historical documents”. Maybe they believe that no matter how deadly they think they are, humanity will always have one man and a scientist who will take them down. How’s this for a conspiracy theory: Hollywood knows that aliens are watching us, plotting our demise, and produces a propaganda movie like TW every so many years just to let the aliens know their plans are all for naught. This is the only plausible explanation I can think of for why I keep seeing movies like TW, and will probably see another one before too long. I sure hope the aliens don’t figure out that movies like TW and Edge of Tomorrow are just lies. We wouldn’t stand a chance if they ever did invade. They would squish us all like ketchup packets, and there’s nothing Pratt or Cruise could do about it. On the other hand, maybe Bruce Willis…