The idea of fighting for a better future is a very relatable one that can be applied to almost any conflict. People campaign, legislate, protest, and even go to war for the sake of shaping a world that will be better for their children. Fighting in the future, however, is a wholly different concept, one that involves a distancing from self-interest and a realization that everyone plays a distinct role in the preservation of civilization. The Tomorrow War imagines an intriguing setup that finds present-day citizens participating fully in a battle to save humanity that they will likely not live to see.
A major 2022 sports game is interrupted by the emergence on the field of many heavily armed soldiers, who announce that they come from twenty-eight years in the future, where the planet is losing a war against an alien race hellbent on its destruction. They ask for the help of today’s population to turn the tide, leading to a worldwide draft that selects people and sends them into the future to complete a tour of duty. One high school science teacher and combat veteran, Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), wants nothing more than to remain with his family, but has no choice but to serve when he is called in.
There are certain cinematic ingredients at play here, all working to try to deliver a satisfying sci-fi action film that’s both familiar enough to hit all the right notes and original enough to justify its existence. Making its protagonist a scientist means that it must rely, to a degree, on explaining the logic of its plot, something that should never be front-and-center in this kind of film since, inevitably, there will be holes within its formulation. But anyone who watches fare like this should know that a game-changing discovery and plan will be the eventual key to success, and who is better equipped to come up with it than an ordinary scientist with a bit of military experience?
Though this film isn’t divided into chapters, it’s best analyzed that way. The exposition is actually relatively brief, with the eye-popping sight of people materializing on international television enough to quash any doubt of the legitimacy of what they are saying, though, as with any military conflict, protests against war in general do crop up. Once Dan arrives in the future, the large and frighteningly powerful aliens become the main focus, as does his relationship with his adult daughter, Muri (Yvonne Strahovski), now a high-ranking player on the front. The film then pivots to a more introspective tone as Dan takes on the ambitious task of working to prevent the future he has visited from ever coming to pass in the first place.
There are considerable ethical questions that don’t get much of a showcase, including the fact that draft-dodging is impossible since next of kin are automatically selected to take the place of those who refuse to serve. The notion of going into the future to fight another generation’s war and knowing full well that return is unlikely is a complex one, and there’s also something very unifying about the entire world coming together to combat a common enemy, though it’s not too optimistic to think that the only case where that could actually be possible is the threat of global annihilation. Consider it like Independence Day but with all of Earth replacing the White House, with the odds of survival and victory about the same.
While this isn’t a thinking man’s movie, it does have some things going for it. Pratt is a suitable star, and he’s surrounded by some entertaining talent that helps to balance the film’s grim outlook with welcome humor. Sam Richardson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and J.K. Simmons make the most of all of their screen time to do exactly that, and the levity they bring is endearing. Strahovski is also a good choice for her role, as is the dependable Betty Gilpin as Dan’s supportive wife. Like any film of this nature, the focus on specific characters in a conflict as large as this one doesn’t always feel appropriate or realistic, but it does make for a more inviting ride.
A runtime of well over two hours means that this film has ample opportunity to navigate the many elements of its narrative, and it does so in a way that doesn’t feel particularly urgent, indulging in heartfelt family moments and tense walks across treacherous territory. It also establishes certain ground rules about time travel that make creative solutions far less productive, keeping it to two distinct chronological settings rather than a potentially appealing fluctuating timeline. In that vein, the future doesn’t feel all that different from the present with the glaring exception of the omnipresence of murderous aliens. This film features decent visual effects, action sequences, and acting, but there isn’t much in the way of cutting-edge cinematic style. It might be best compared to Tenet: lofty on premise, lukewarm on delivery.
The Tomorrow War premieres exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on July 2nd.