Maybe time travel is real, because The Tomorrow War (streaming on Amazon Prime) feels like it could be from 30 years ago. And I mean that in the best way possible. Like the popcorn movies of the early 1990s (which I’m sorry to report, were the better part of 30 years ago), it’s a blatantly entertaining movie with no pretensions of being anything else.
Chris Pratt (who also produced) plays Dan Forester, a recently returned home soldier still trying to find his place in suburbia. His wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) adore him, and he’s good at teaching high school science. Yet he longs for something more.
Something more arrives in the form of an alien invasion, but not now—in the future. In 2051 the planet comes under attack by white, spike-shooting, tentacled, hungry monsters. Without enough survivors to defend themselves, humanity recruits people from the past to go to the future to help in the fight. Soon there’s a worldwide draft, and Dan is inevitably called.
At first he resists and visits his estranged father James (J.K. Simmons), who could help him escape. After an argument with James, however, Dan ultimately decides to do his duty. His teammates on his mission are old, out of shape, inexperienced, and untrained. There’s a reason for that beyond manufacturing conflict for the story, and the movie is clever about how it approaches time travel as well. Sure there are plot holes aplenty, but there always are.
As with Back to the Future, we’re here for the characters. As with Live Die Repeat, we’re here for explosions and to see movie stars shoot aliens. Logic can sit in the backseat. The Tomorrow War satisfies on the thrills, with big-budget special effects. The family drama is just enough to provide a counterbalance to the action without getting soap-operatic.
“I’m not a hero. I was trying to save my daughter,” Dan says. “If I got to save the world to save her, then I’m damn sure gonna do it.”
No, it’s not a perfect movie and might not stand the test of time. Among other things, it is at least 20 minutes too long, and the profanity could have been taken down a notch. Pratt’s charisma and chemistry with the other actors only covers so many faults, yet easily provides the emotional stakes to keep us invested.
The future will always be uncertain. It’s hard enough to get a clear picture of the present. “For now we see in a mirror dimly,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Before that, Jesus said today has enough troubles of its own, nevermind tomorrow’s. Stories thrive on conflict. Time travel adventures merge today’s and tomorrow’s troubles into one, anxiety-filled package.
To its credit, The Tomorrow War reminds us that when tomorrow’s monsters come knocking and everything looks destined to fail, “faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (Amazon Prime)