Movies

Chris Pratt’s New Movie The Tomorrow War, Explained, Today!

Is it a climate-change metaphor? Is it a comedy? Does it make any sense?

chris pratt, holding a gun, leads a group of people
Is it about aliens? Is it about time travel? Is it nonsense? Yes! Amazon

The Tomorrow War needs a little explaining from the word go. “What is a ‘tomorrow war’?” you may ask. “I see Chris Pratt is the lead. Is this a comedy?” Luckily, I’m here to answer these questions—and more—about the movie, which is out on Amazon Prime Video just in time for you to enjoy (or more likely not, but we’ll get into that) over Fourth of July weekend.

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As explained by the trailer, soldiers from 30 years into the future appear to recruit the people of 2021 to help them fight an alien invasion. Family man, high school teacher, and Iraq War vet Dan Forester (Pratt) is among the latest wave of civilians-turned-cannon-fodder, and he encounters more than a few twists along the way. (Spoilers follow.)

Wait, so they’re sending people into the future? Instead of using their knowledge to go back in time and stop this alien invasion from ever happening?

This is honestly the movie’s biggest logic hiccup. Ostensibly, the reason a worldwide draft is instituted (though we don’t see what’s going on in any country but America) is to keep the people of the future alive for as long as possible, even at the price of killing the people of today.

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If the technology to let people travel through time exists, why can’t they just keep endlessly going back in time to recruit more and more people? Could they also, like, go back to the Civil War, and recruit Abe Lincoln?

The time-travel technology is a little hinky, so unfortunately, no, they could not. They say that if it weren’t a crisis, they would still be testing it out on lab animals instead of beaming people into the future. As such, whether for plot convenience or otherwise, their abilities are pretty limited. The people of 2051 can only go back to 2021, and every minute that the people of 2051 spend back in 2021 also passes in 2051, meaning that humanity, in both timelines, is always getting closer and closer to the end of the world. Also, every time a new round of draftees gets beamed into the future, they get beamed further into the future than the last group of soldiers, and closer to the end.

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To keep people from questioning why they can send crowds of people into the future with seemingly no problem but can’t make even minor adjustments to the times that they send people to, the movie includes one scene of Forester’s unit getting transported to the wrong coordinates—in mid-air, as it happens—resulting in almost all of them dying.

Wait, if that’s what happens, how does Chris Pratt avoid going splat?

He conveniently lands in a swimming pool.

And this “let’s just keep sending people into the future” plan actually works?

It isn’t actually the ultimate plan! Forester discovers that the future-military official he’s working with is—gasp!—his grown-up daughter, who is working on a toxin that can destroy the aliens. The toxin must then be taken into the past to be mass-produced, as the people of 2051, having been ravaged by the aliens, lack the necessary resources.

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So they end up going back to the present anyway?

Yes. But not before an incredibly confusing sequence in which Dan promises his future-daughter that he’s going to come back for her and rescue her, right before she’s eaten by aliens.

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He says he’s going to save her by going back to 2021 and mass-producing the toxin and then returning to the future?

Yes.

Does he do that?

When he returns to 2021, he finds out that, because the humans of the future, when time travel was invented, have been defeated, the time-travel hole has closed. There is no way to go, you might say, back to the future. Then he gets the toxin mass-produced, and he and a group of pals go to Russia to—

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Why are they going to Russia?

Well, and here comes the next twist, the aliens didn’t arrive on Earth in the future. They’ve been here all along, but trapped in the ice in Russia. The future is just when the ice melts and ends up setting the aliens free.

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How did the aliens get frozen under the ice?

It turns out that a different alien race were transporting them but crashed in Russia. The characters speculate that the aliens piloting the ship were planning on weaponizing the aliens who make 2051 a hellscape in order to conquer other planets, but whether or not they meant to come to Earth is up for debate.

So it’s like in the X-Files movie, in which the aliens were similarly here all along, frozen under the ice?

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Sort of!

Is this a climate-change allegory? You’ve described a world in which the people of today must unite to prevent an apocalypse that’s been precipitated by the melting of the ice caps …

Aside from the fact that global warming, and in turn the melting of the ice, is a literal plot point, climate change is not really what the movie is about. After all, the heroes’ solution has to do less with stopping global warming than with mitigating its effects, by killing the aliens. A lot of what happens also seems to suggest that the government is ineffective and therefore we should arm ourselves, which, not great.

So then they just kill all the aliens in the past?

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Yup! They wipe out the aliens in the past, so that apocalyptic future no longer exists.

Hmm. Doesn’t messing with the past change the future, and also how Dan gets the toxin?

By conventional time-travel logic, the kind that philosophers tend to approve, yes. By Tomorrow War’s time-travel logic, no.

What is Tomorrow War’s time-travel logic?

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“Just fudge it so we can move on with the story and Chris Pratt can save the day.”

So everything’s fine?

Yes. The aliens remain dead, and there is no discernible wrinkle in the timeline causing the universe to collapse in on itself or prompting the Time Variance Authority to show up and bust Chris Pratt.

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Is Chris Pratt funny in this?

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Sort of? If you’re a big Pratt-head, he’s funny enough, but most of the comic relief duties go to Veep actor Sam Richardson, who does his level best with writing that does not fit the tone of the rest of the movie at all. (To be clear, in this house, we love Sam Richardson.)

So this isn’t a comedy?

No. Two of the funniest actors in it—Mary Lynn Rajskub and Mike Mitchell—actually get killed off very early.

Is the movie fun, at least?

Alas, no. There are some good monster moments—watching them all swarm up an army base evokes a terror reminiscent of seeing an insect infestation—but the movie is overlong (2 hours 20 minutes), the “funny” moments rarely land, and the overall story is, as outlined here, pretty silly. Then again, it’s streaming on Amazon, so if you already have a Prime subscription, you’ve already paid the price of entry. Just don’t say that I didn’t come here from the future to warn you!

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