‘The Tomorrow War’: Chris Pratt, J.K. Simmons on Father-Son Dynamic

In Amazon Studios’ upcoming sci-fi blockbuster “The Tomorrow War,” Chris Pratt stars as Dan Forester — a soldier sent to the year 2051 to fight off against an alien invasion.

Beyond the film’s grandiose sci-fi elements, it deals with an array of contemporary family themes and the notion of what one generation owes to the next, as Dan is determined to rewrite the future in order to create a better life for his daughter.

During a virtual press conference for the film, Pratt and screenwriter Zach Dean explained how the movie’s story plays with the idea of conscription and the motivations that inherently drive a person to enlist.

“The idea of not having it be about necessarily an ideology or patriotism or loyalty to protect your country, but being about literally your desire to save your own kids,” Dean said. “Who doesn’t sign up for that? It’s a different thing. We’re not asking for an abstract idea. It’s about parenting.”

While wars are traditionally fought by the youngest people, “The Tomorrow War” sees people from their 30s and 40s drawn into battle as people cannot live in both timelines at the same time. As Pratt points out, the time travelers are essentially drafting a crop of people who will be dead in 2051.

“You are dealing with people who are making life decisions based not on the life that they could lead, but rather the world that they’re leaving for their children,” Pratt explained. “It’s a different theme to think about someone being drafted away from their children rather than children being drafted away from their parents.”

Pratt and Dean were joined for the event by the film’s cast and creatives, who looked beyond the movie’s action-packed plot to analyze some of the story’s more intimate messages. Joining Pratt and Dean for the conversation, which focused on the “present day” timeline, were Betty Gilpin, Sam Richardson, Edwin Hodge and J.K. Simmons. Later in the day, Pratt also joined co-stars Yvonne Strahovski, Jasmine Mathews, Keith Powers, and director Chris McKay to talk about the film’s future world.

The film’s focus on family dynamics also extends to the father-son narrative between Pratt’s Dan and his father, Slade, played by Simmons. The characters have a fractured relationship in the film, and the Oscar winner said he and Pratt were given the freedom to explore their character’s conflict from various angles.

“You end up doing six or seven takes of a given scene and then the director has six or seven significantly different versions of the emotion, the passion, the drama and the comedy to choose from,” Simmons said.

Pratt also revealed there’s a nod to “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the movie, and went on to explain the thematic similarities between the classic film and “The Tomorrow War,” particularly in regards to his character’s backstory.

“This is a guy who’s not happy with his station in life,” Pratt said. “Through the course of the events in his life, he’s got this relationship with his dad that he’s estranged from, and he’s blaming his father for all of his issues. His dad wasn’t around.”

Over the course of the story, though, Dan begins to understand that he has more similarities with his father than he realized. This brings Dan to a place of acceptance and forgiveness, which according to Pratt, is a real pivotal moment that comes in adulthood.

“When we look at our parents as these deities in our life, we come to a moment in our life where we realize, ‘Oh, wow, that was just a kid who had a kid,’” Pratt said. “When you realize that, you can forgive them for any shortcomings they had because they didn’t live up to the God-like status you’d given them when you were young, and you realize, ‘Okay, now I’m in the same dilemma, my kids are going to look at me like I’m some sort of infallible person and of course I’m not.’”

The movie isn’t just all about feelings — there are also some massive action set pieces. Pratt highlighted one sequence, where the characters of present day first make the jump from 2021 to 2051, falling from the sky to land in a pool on a rooftop in Miami. The setup took three days to shoot, but the actor says the experience was really fun and physical.

“We got to jump off of this high dive that we built out of a forklift and jump off into the water,” Pratt recalled. “The camera followed us down and then you had stunt people jumping down and landing on top of you, forcing you underwater. There’s a camera down there, you’re trying to get smashed into the ground and come up, and struggle into a close-up underwater.”

Both Pratt and Simmons have become quite familiar with working on action movie sets over the years. Pratt headlines the “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Jurassic World” blockbuster franchises, while Simmons recently appeared in “21 Bridges,” “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” and is set to reprise his role as J. Jonah Jameson with a cameo in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” However, Simmons’ physique in this film was even more top-notch than usual — and even Pratt noticed.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked about J.K’s arms on this, and I am all for it,” Pratt said. “That was the two gun salute, man. You look freakin’ jacked in this movie. It is so cool.”

Simmons — who joked that he got ripped by imitating Pratt’s gym workout routine, but “with bigger plates on the bars” — seemed content with the compliment.

“If nothing else comes from this movie, I’m happy,” Simmons replied.

“The Tomorrow War” launches July 2 on Amazon Prime Video.

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