When some dear friends of mine offered to fly me up to New Jersey to watch their dog over Fourth of July weekend, one of my initial thoughts was: what about seeing a movie? Luckily, the only thing coming out in theaters this weekend seems to be The Forever Purge. No, thank you, though if Cameron sees it and wants to write about it, I guess then you will see a review for it from The Legionnaire. I, for one, do not get why anyone would think that would be a good movie to release on the weekend we celebrate our nation’s independence. Yes, nothing says patriotism like anarchy. If it turns out that I am wrong, then so be it. Luckily, there was another movie being released with similar hype that I could watch in the confines of the house in which I am staying, and that was The Tomorrow War.
If you saw any of the promotional material for The Tomorrow War, you know it involves time travel. I have commented before how tricky such plots can be. The film literally drops you right into the middle of it with Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) landing in a rooftop swimming pool in the year 2051. For the next half hour or so, it tells you how he got to that point in time from twenty-eight years earlier. He is a former Army special forces operator who has a passion for science. It is Christmas time in the present, and with family and friends gathered to celebrate, he is eagerly awaiting a position to be a scientific researcher for a major company. He feels that by doing so, he will be doing something bigger with his life than teaching high school science. When he does not get the position, his supportive wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and adoring daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) assuage his disappointment. Their enjoyment is derailed, though, when the soccer game they are watching is interrupted by digital static. When it clears, there are soldiers on the field who had emerged from a purple cloud, and they tell the crowd that they are from the future. Apparently, in thirty years there is an alien invasion of creatures called “Whitespikes” for their abilites to shoot sharpened projectiles out of their tails. They are bent on destruction, pushing the human race to the point of extinction. Mankind’s solution? Invent time travel and recruit people from three decades previous to help fight the many armed monsters. When I say “people,” I mean anyone above a certain age with a pulse. They give them a rudimentary amount of training, hand them a gun, and send them out to try to kill unthinking beasts whose only vulnerable spot is their rarely seen underside. Emmy works with survivors of these “tours of duty,” as they are called, and sees the devastating effects that the massive casualties and injuries have on those who go and are lucky enough to return. Hence her worry when Dan gets drafted to fight. Her first proposal is that they pack up their family and run. To that effect, Dan goes to see his estranged father James (J. K. Simmons), a former soldier himself with the ability to remove the time jump bracelet stamped into his son’s flesh and help them get away. However, Dan sees his father as having abandoned his family, and feels like dodging the draft would also be an act of desertion. So, he travels into the future. Now we are back to the beginning, and his mission is to locate a research lab where they were studying Whitespike DNA. Their first priority is to find the scientists, but when they are found dead they instead take their research. Barely making it out before they decide to carpet bomb the city (Miami, by the way), Dan and what remain of his compatriots wake up in another area. Here, Dan gets to meet the one who guided his team through Miami, Colonel Muri Forester (Yvonne Strahovski), his daughter all grown up. She is initially standoffish because at some point in the past Dan had become estranged from his family and there is some lingering bitterness on her part. Still, Dan remains determined to help, and assists in capturing a female Whitespike. Such a specimen is crucial to Muri’s work, who is also a scientist and trying to develop a toxin that will destroy the invaders. Unfortunately, the males are quite protective of the females, and attack en masse the last remaining human stronghold where she is held. Dan barely makes it out with a vile of the toxin, though he had to watch Muri die in the process. Back in the present, he tries to get anyone who will listen that this holds the key to defeating the Whitespikes in the future. He also figures out, with the help of one of his fellow draftees who also survived, another scientist named Charlie (Sam Richardson), that the Whitespikes had been there for centuries before the supposed invasion. Taking matters into his own hands, he leads a small group of soldiers including his dad to where they determined their original craft to be, blow it up, and kill the female. Thus, the future is saved.
The Tomorrow War is really two movies, and that is problematic. There is everything happening in the future, and everything happening in the present. And because time travel is so theoretical as to defy logic, they have to come up with hokey reasons for why they are focusing on these two time periods. It is something about how time moves like a river, and you can only jump between two points like rafts on this hypothetical body of water. It is not worth remembering. What is germane is how the story seemingly builds up to humanity finally being able to triumph in the future, only to have everything destroyed when the Whitespikes take back the female. There is still a half hour to go in the film where the toxin plan is dismissed, a Whitespike claw is found to have volcanic ash on it from an eruption over a thousand years ago, and a high school kid explains how all this could work. Unsurprisingly, when Dan approaches the government with his new plan of finding the source of the aliens and taking care of it before it can become a problem, he is rejected outright. The long and short of all this is that the plot could have used a little tightening.
There is also a lot of expository dialog in The Tomorrow War. Some of it is dumb, like how time travel works and volcanoes. Other examples are kind of interesting. One of the reasons Dan is drafted is because the recruiters, who are from the future, know that he dies before 2051. This, too, borders on silly because in an offhanded they explain how they try to avoid sending certain people into the future because they want to prevent some kind of time paradox. Currently, there is just shy of eight billion people in the world. In the film, Earth’s population in 2051 is around 500,000. That sucks. It also means the likelihood that anyone would be around in such a world, including yourself, are extremely small. Further, Dan does not seem to live anywhere near Miami. Griping aside, eventually Muri tells her dad what happens to him. While this also implies that he survives his seven days in the future (dissolving much of the tension), it serves as an emotional lesson for Dan. It is also set up by Emmy’s work with survivors, and James’ reluctance to get close to anyone. Violence of all kinds, physical and otherwise, wounds. It always does. None of us are granted the opportunity to know our fate, and thus make the changes necessary to prevent it. That is God’s purview alone. However, it is also only Him that can ultimately begin the process of healing us from those wounds. Time travel obviates the needs to explore these events. For the rest of us, prayer and deepening your relationship with God heals and leads us into some unexpected places that are always glorious. I am glad that Dan had a happy ending, and what a blessing for him. In reality, prayer can do all that even better.
The Tomorrow War is on Amazon Prime if you want to check it out. I would not call it a family friendly movie, though it is not the worst. There is a great deal of violence, and the Whitespikes might scare younger ones. Otherwise, it is just kind of blah.