"The Tomorrow War" Is the Movie We've Been Waiting For

(Anheuser-Busch via AP)

Hollywood has become exhausting and a bit try-hard. If they aren’t pushing a political message, they’re attempting to serve up high-octane absurdity that we’ve become so desensitized by that watching a rocket car get caught by a magnet plane after Vin Diesel grumbles out the word “family” will induce more yawns than it does thrills.

I can’t help but harken back to the days of “Independence Day.” A movie where there was no political message, it felt like there were stakes and the action was mixed so well with heart and character that it made for a nearly perfect movie. So many movies afterward had tried to capture its magic and pretty much all of them failed…until now.

“The Tomorrow War” popped up on Amazon Prime as an in-home theater movie that could have easily been a silver screen flick. Chris Pratt takes the lead as Dan Forester, an ex-military-turned biology teacher and loving father who is drafted into a war taking place in the future where humanity is on the verge of extinction thanks to an alien race that appeared in Russia before spreading like wildfire across the planet.

Rounding out the cast is Forester’s estranged father and Vietnam veteran James, played by J.K. Simmons, and Yvonne Strahovski as Muri Forester, Dan’s daughter grown-up in the future.

Tomorrow War’s cast delivers performances that have no right to be as good as they are. In various parts of the movie, characters could have easily over-delivered a line here or phoned in some emotion there, and it almost seems at times the script attempted to force that, but the talent of the actors kept the feel right where they needed it to be.

What’s more, the emotion feeds into the action in ways that make sense for certain characters. You see Pratt’s character struggle with his anger toward his father thanks to abandonment issues and you watch him struggle with the same anger his daughter has for him later on. Both these men then go on a redemption arc for the sake of their children. The war against the aliens, while still incredibly prevalent, almost takes a back seat to a very human story about familial bonds.

This becomes far more on the nose near the end than it should and combined with a climactic action sequence that puts one foot over the line into the absurd, it makes for an ending that gets somewhat wobbly but manages to stick the landing regardless.

Tragedy and levity are introduced in good measure here with a lot of the laugh-out-loud moments being delivered by Sam Richardson’s Charlie. Simmons also delivers his dry wit to some scenes, even calling out moments where action sequences got a bit too heavy-handed, a suggestive wink to the audience.

What, to me, was most interesting about Tomorrow War is the fact that they made the audience put themselves into the office shoes of those who were sent into the future to fight the aliens, and I mean “office shoes” very literally.  Anyone could be drafted to take part in the war, not just ex-military. There is no training, and many people are sent into the future wearing blouses, yoga pants, cargo khakis, or whatever they had on hand.

It forces the audience to see themselves in the characters and their lack of training and combat experience will make many viewers feel the intensity of many situations as they navigate and cope with their ignorance. It will also drive home the tragedy of death more as many characters could have just as easily been your wife, son, co-worker, best friend, or father.

The intensity is further driven home by the fact that the enemy humanity faces is insurmountable. The aliens are well designed and terrifying, with a skill set that makes them something of a walking talking swiss-army knife of combat with overwhelming numbers to boot. Civilian troops that do survive encounters aren’t counted as skilled, but lucky, no matter how many times they’ve survived.

One other thing the movie does spectacularly well is put some very hard and fast rules on time travel. Many time-travel movies either become too complicated or leave too many plot holes in their wake. While Tomorrow War does have a handful of plot holes to choose from, it keeps them to a minimum, enough to be ignorable.

All in all, the movie is a well-rounded thrill ride that tiptoes the line between solid and silly. While it may not match the masterpiece that is Independence Day, it jogs closely behind it as a better spiritual successor than ID4’s own sequel. What’s more, there is no hint of politics in this movie or even overtly friendly nods to China. The only time it gets remotely political is when a politician is denying something one minute, then taking full credit for that thing’s success the next. Characters even make it a point to keep politicians out of things because of how unreliable they are.

I recommend seeing this movie as soon as you can, then possibly going back in for seconds later. While it’s uncomplicated enough to be satisfying on a single viewing, you’ll want to experience a lot of the moments again with all the information revealed to you. Moreover, you’ll want to soak in a theme that is missing from a good many movies today; that a father’s presence and love for his family can literally change the world.