This was excessively stupid. It honestly feels like it was written by AI, not a human. It has all the pieces you expect from a large-budgeted scifi action vehicle starring an established action star, but nothing makes any sense, the emotional catharsis is completely manufactured and feels incredibly fake while being entirely unearned, and it veers wildly from intentionally silly to unintentionally hilarious without a single sense that anyone involved in the movie has any sense of tone in the least. But hey, stuff blew up good and the music swelled at the end, so it felt like a good time, I guess.
The future has come back to the past to recruit soldiers to fight a war in the future. Already, this movie is excessively stupid based on just the concept, but other movies have survived dumber concepts without descending into constant stupidity. However, The Tomorrow War rises to the challenge and actually goes out of its way to prove that it’s really dumb.
Chris Pratt plays James Forester, a retired sergeant in the Green Berets who teaches high school biology. During his World Cup viewing party he proves that he loves his wife and daughter very much (this is important to the movie’s stupidity, by the way) while struggling to make a difference in the world (I mean, just…ugh). Then the people from the future show up, and we skip ahead a year. In that year, thousands of people have been sent forward every week to fight with return numbers settling around 20%. The worldwide draft is killing off most of the people drafted, and tensions are rising. Of course, James gets drafted, and then the movie goes out of its way to prove to the audience that the movie is really, really stupid.
Time mechanics are hard to figure out in fiction. They require a good deal of thought to consider how to make the whole moving backwards and forwards in time actually make sense. The Tomorrow War takes its time to explain how its mechanics work, but then spends the rest of the movie ignoring all of it. I don’t think I’d be nearly as irritated with this film if they had simply cut out the scene explaining the time travel. Keep it as a handwave without actually explaining, and we can go along. But, since the movie explained it, I’ll recap. The time portal that opens and closes between the two times means that the two times are linked together, moving along forward at the same rate. So, when someone goes into the future and then sent back seven days in the future later, seven days have also passed in the past, like two boats moving at the same rate in a river, one ahead of the other.
Where this becomes a huge problem is the entire emotional narrative of the film hinges on those mechanics not being right.
So, for reasons, instead of given a week of training, James’ troop must go the first night they’re there, and something happens with the coordinates so the entire platoon appears hundreds of feet in the air above Miami, still standing above water after the melting of the icecaps. James happens to fall into a pool on top of a high rise, miraculously surviving along with a handful of others. They had to jump early because the alien forces in the future were attacking Miami and the human research facility there that had some really important research. So, what are the humans doing in the future? Planning on bombing Miami to the stone ages. So,…they have to save the research that the humans are going to destroy themselves? I mean…this honestly feels like it was written by an AI.
People die in slow motion with music of import playing, so we think emotionally affecting things are happening (they’re not), and James survives a massive explosion really close to him to wake up and find that his daughter is now a colonel in the military and has rescued him, bringing him to the Dominican Republic. Here’s where it gets super stupid. You see, Yvonne Strahovski’s Muri is really mad at James because, several years after James left for the future, he abandoned the family, leaving Muri alone. Now, this is wrong on two levels. The first is the time travel level. This makes no damn sense. If the two times are moving along at the same rate, then James is gone from the past completely and he could never have abandoned his family because he got sent to the future. If this is because James eventually went back and survived his trip, then there’s no dramatic tension because we know he goes back. Time travel is hard to figure out, and the AI that wrote this movie (the credits say its name is Zach Dean) spent no time trying to figure it out because either way, it either makes no sense or robs the film of all tension. The other way this is wrong is character based.
You see, James hasn’t done what Muri is accusing him of doing. This is akin to her waking up from a dream where he had done something wrong and James needing to make up for it. He hasn’t left her and her mother. The only time we saw him and Muri together in the past was where they were a loving father and daughter pair, happily watching the World Cup together. When the movie comes to an end and James promises his daughter that he’ll never leave her, it means nothing because he never did leave her. He started as a loving dad and ends as a loving dad. It’s not a journey. It’s him staying in place with music swelling like he has taken an emotional journey. I mean, this movie is really stupid.
And that doesn’t even get to the stupidity at the heart of the human plans for the aliens, the White Spikes. You see, in the future they’ve developed a toxin for the males, but they can’t get it to work on the females. So, daddy and daughter use science to figure it out, developing just that toxin from a captured female. Having the female at their remote ocean base attracts a huge mass of males that attack, ultimately leading Muri to dying and James going back in time just in time to save him because of course. The attack, though, knocks out the link between past and present, and James, along with a couple of his buddies, are stuck in the past with this female toxin.
Well, what to do? Well, they do what the scientists of the world had, apparently, collectively decided to not do: figure out where the White Spikes originated from, quickly (I mean, really quickly) discovering that they were buried under the ice in Russia for thousands of years instead of falling to the earth some decades hence. Seriously, this movie is really stupid. So, without permission, James enlists his father (J.K. Simmons) to fly them to Russia where they ultimately beat the female by hitting her in the face with an icepick. Where did that toxin go? Was it necessary? I guess not. Well, that just invalidates the middle section of the film, I suppose.
This movie has the veneer of an entertaining blockbuster like Independence Day, but it definitely is not that. Independence Day was able to rise about its questions about how a Mac could interface with an alien ship through solid character work and a plot that made sense. The Tomorrow War is a complete hodgepodge of bad ideas flying at each other without any sense of what could or could not work. It doesn’t know because it was written by an AI.
This was one of the worst big budget action movies I’ve seen in a long time.