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How The Tomorrow War's Time Travel Works

Chris Pratt, Edwin Hodge, and Sam Richardson walking forward, guns drawn in The Tomorrow War.
(Image credit: Skydance/Paramount/Prime Video)

Greetings readers and fellow time travel enthusiasts, and welcome back to the lab! Last week, we tackled the timely subject of how The Adam Project’s time travel works, which was a handful that involved the fun and joy of parallel contact with one’s younger self. Since the world of streaming has been good to us chronological explorers lately, it felt like a good time to jump into some of the case studies that have stacked up on my desk. For this week, it’s time to take a trip into Prime Video and Paramount’s The Tomorrow War’s rather unique handling of temporal displacement. 

If you haven’t seen Chris Pratt’s big time travel war story, then you should probably watch it (opens in new tab) before we dive in. Should you not have a Prime Video subscription, you might want to look into that if this story sounds like it’s your thing. Judging by the fact that you’re here, it feels like it would be. All prepared to step into the future, follow me, as we’re about to travel from here to there in the then and now, in order to fight The Tomorrow War

A ravaged Miami Beach in The Tomorrow War.

(Image credit: Skydance/Paramount/Prime Video)

The Time Travel in The Tomorrow War

A massive alien invasion of Earth calls for a very specific response. As such, The Tomorrow War may be the most massive time travel trip we’ve ever witnessed in the history of movies.

Who's Time Traveling
As The Tomorrow War sends thousands of people through its internationally scattered gateways, there’s a lot of folks coming and going. Most importantly, we see military vet turned science teacher James Daniel Forester Jr. (Chris Pratt), and fellow soldiers Charlie (Sam Richardson) and Dorian (Edwin Hodge) traveling into the future. 

From When To When
The window of temporal operations in The Tomorrow War specifically spans between the years of 2022 and 2051. 

The Purpose Of Their Trip
In 2051, humanity is driven to the brink of extinction by an aggressive alien species known as Whitespikes. With no idea where they came from, or how to stop them, the military of the future has drafted specific people from the past to jump forward and fight this conflict.

An active Jumplink terminal in The Tomorrow War.

(Image credit: Skydance/Paramount/Prime Video)

How Time Travel Happens In The Tomorrow War

With The Tomorrow War encompassing such a massive group of people jumping from “the present” into the future, there’s a need for some unconventional methods. As such, scientists in the future have created “The Jumplink,” a time-specific wormhole that’s held together by “chewing gum and chicken wire,” allowing humanity to travel only within the 28-30 year window.

Using bracelets to ensure people drafted serve, as well as their safe return upon survival, people like Dan Jr. can be returned to the past after they’ve completed their deployment. Each deployment lasts 7 days, and yes, you can be sent on/volunteer for multiple deployments, as seen with Dorian, who is on trip 3 when The Tomorrow War sends the audience into the future. 

The greatest peril involved in Jumplink travel is a classic pitfall of time traveling 101: spatial reasoning. What’s supposed to be a landing that sends everyone “5 to 10 feet above the ground” turns into an absolute disaster. As Dan Jr.’s jump into the future sees him and his fellow soldiers dropped into future Miami Beach, a glitch in the coordinates sees everyone falling from the sky. Many die because of uncertain impacts with buildings or the ground, with the lucky ones landing in swimming pools or on rooftops. Chewing gum and chicken wire indeed.

Chris Pratt and Yvonne Strahovski in The Tomorrow War

(Image credit: Amazon)

Can History Be Changed As A Result Of Time Travel In The Tomorrow War?

History can definitely be changed in The Tomorrow War, as that’s the main purpose behind the strategy of time travel in this universe. Again, the people that are drafted to serve from the past are selected because by time humanity’s conflict with the Whitespikes happens, people like Dan Jr. are recorded as “dead.” 

The ultimate victory over the Whitespikes only happens because of Dan Jr. teaming up with Charlie, Dorian, and his estranged father Dan Sr. (J.K. Simmons) back in 2022. Figuring out that the aliens released in the future were frozen in a Russian glacier in their present day, the team stops this war before it even starts. Which means that Dan Jr. won’t have to watch his future daughter (Yvonne Strahovski) resent him, or worse, die shortly after formulating a toxin that can kill the Whitespike Queen.

J.K. Simmons, Chris Pratt, and Sam Richardson stand ready in the snowy open in The Tomorrow War.

(Image credit: Skydance/Parmount/Prime Video)

What Are The Consequences Of Time Travel In The Tomorrow War?

Simply put, the consequences of The Tomorrow War’s time travel are basically what you’d expect. By drafting people that will be dead by time the war with the Whitespikes starts, it’s presumed that no damage will be done to the timeline. Though there is an interesting wrinkle when it comes to the final result, which the film's time travel logic clearly explains.

While humanity is saved in the ending of The Tomorrow War, none of the people who died fighting the Whitespikes are restored to the present day timeline. Nor does Lieutenant Hart (Jasmine Mathews) go back to the future once the mission is over. Everyone remembers the war effort, and the fact that aliens were even involved in the first place; which is something you'd think wouldn't be possible. 

Here's where the chewing gum and chicken wire seem to have stabilized the timeline for a change. Again, thanks to the Jumplink operating on a very specific window of time, both the present and the future can only be changed in realtime. If someone dies today in the present or future and it's not undone almost immediately, it's never going to be undone.

It leads to some interesting possibilities for the Tomorrow War sequel that’s currently in development, especially with Dan Jr. supposedly knowing the date of his death. So if you're wondering how or why the timeline is intact with all of these people off the board, a cross between Paycheck's theory that observing the future locks it in and a good old-fashioned Terminator-style ontological paradox seems to explain it all.

J.K. Simmons hugging Ryan Kiera Armstrong in The Tomorrow War.

(Image credit: Skydance/Paramount/Prime Video)

Let’s Make Sure This Never Happens Again

For now, Earth is spared from a war with the Whitespikes. Though that could change at any moment, considering how that Tomorrow War sequel is in the works. Until we know what the next chaotic conflict is going to be about, let’s just make sure this never happens again… until it does, and we have to figure it out one more time. 

We’ll just close the book on this case study before we fall too far down that particular rabbit hole of discussion. Before we leave though, don’t forget to check out the CinemaBlend Time Travel Archives, as there’s plenty of past studies worthy of future reading. As for what we’ll be exploring next week, well, that’s complicated. Technically you’ll be talking about how time works on the Disney+ series Loki; so be sure to read up on how Season 1 ended if you’re not up for rewatching the entire season.

However, as a gesture of goodwill, the Other Mike that taught you about Hot Tub Time Machine’s time travel will be teaching the lesson. Also, I don’t know how to send him home, so anything to stop him from messing with time is welcome. Until we meet again, dear readers! 

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.