The Tomorrow War’s concept is one that is not alien to us. We have seen it unfold on screen too many times, in too many films of the same genre. The creatures in the film give the impression of being the violent love children of the Mimics from Edge of Tomorrow, the blind monsters from A Quiet Place, the Neomorphs from Alien: Covenant… and maybe a dinosaur or two from Jurassic World. In the conclusion, there also appears to have been a bit of the Independence Day franchise thrown in. The Whitespikes (which is what the aliens are called) possess feral characteristics and voracious appetites, and they also appear to follow a social system that resembles one that most eusocial species adhere to: the males are fiercely protective of the females. Either way, The Tomorrow War is at its captivating best only when these pale beasts turn up.
The time travel angle is reminiscent of films like Edge of Tomorrow, Interstellar and Tenet. I mention the last two particularly because of the father-daughter relationship that forms the beating heart of the cerebral and complex Interstellar, which is also present in The Tomorrow War, and the forgotten climate change argument of Tenet, which remains forgotten even in this film. That basically sums up The Tomorrow War, which is a farrago of the best bits of every sci-fi film ever. This is both good and bad for the movie. It is bad because we can’t help think “been there, done that” every time something happens in the film; the absolute unoriginality of its plot is kind of a bummer. But it is good because these are the very elements that make it an engaging watch until the very end. It is always fun to watch guns blazing, monsters screeching and a lot of futuristic jargon thrown about. The film is not boring. But it is clichéd and myopic, and juggles too many things without knowing what to focus on really.
The time travel aspect is extremely lazy and vague. Soldiers from the future literally choose to gate-crash the World Cup to announce a war that happens several years later; perhaps this was to highlight the insignificance of some forms of entertainment (which are a big deal for people today) when humanity is faced with greater troubles such as warfare. And – surprise, surprise – the film ends with a “happily ever after”: the aliens are wiped out and our protagonist Dan (Chris Pratt) gets to stay alive and reunite with his family! And that is where The Tomorrow War completely forgets about the time travel stuff of the first half, and fails to address some bigger questions regarding the creation of paradoxes and other problems pertaining to changing timelines. It seeks to remain straightforward, and while we are grateful to the makers for not sauntering into the mindboggling territory of Nolan, they could have at least clarified these instead of portraying the whole affair in a simplistic manner.
It is necessary to note the two important words in the film’s title: tomorrow and war. War is always something that has been created by humans, intentionally or unintentionally, and in The Tomorrow War it is implied that our activities contributed to climate change, which inadvertently led to the Whitespikes invading the planet. Unlike most sci-fi films that jump right into the middle of the action, The Tomorrow War touches upon some of the downsides of war. Global conscription is announced to send people into the future, and perspectives for and against this are shown in the movie. There are protests and riots on one side and then there are those who feel that they have a responsibility to protect future generations. It is indicated that there were some people who tried to evade getting drafted and faced penalties for this. Dan’s young daughter Muri represents the children of the present and her grown-up version (played by Yvonne Strahovski) represents the future.
There are scenes that focus on the trauma of the survivors; in fact, Dan’s estranged father (J.K. Simmons), a Vietnam veteran, forsook his family because of PTSD. Dan himself served in Iraq, and his troubled relationship with his father, as well as his failed career ambitions, apparently contributed to his frustrations (he is revealed to have a slight temper). This subsequently ends his marriage and results in his death some years later (which is revealed to him by grown-up Muri in the future). The words of Mycroft Holmes from Sherlock kept echoing in my ears: “You’re not haunted by the war… You miss it.” Perhaps the war in the future helped Dan do what he did best and create an alternate future where everybody gets a happy ending. We come to know that the whole time travel idea was Muri’s, who is now a military scientist and a colonel spearheading the war against the Whitespikes. One could call it a plan to save billions of people who don’t deserve to be erased because of the mistakes of previous generations, or an opportunity for her to reunite with her father, giving him a chance to change things for the better. Both father and daughter seek to save the world by saving each other. In fact, dysfunctional families, wars, climate change and the like only destroy a child’s bright future. The Tomorrow War’s subtext is visible here – we are fighting a war for and against ourselves, and the future cannot survive without action being taken in the present.
It is funny how the makers chose to avoid the complications of how all the nations set aside their differences and united against a common enemy. The Tomorrow War is an American film, and like most American movies about a global war against an extra-terrestrial enemy, it is myopic and vague. There is a lot of talk about “nations”, but the focus is only on one nation, the USA, the messiah of the present and the future. The soldiers from the future are American. The time travel idea and the solutions are American. We see little to no involvement from other countries. I wonder whether the film intended to make a political statement when it is revealed that there was Chinese volcanic ash discovered in the claws of the Whitespikes, who were lying dormant in Northern Russia. Maybe, maybe not.
The visual brilliance of this scene makes it one of my favourites from the film. As a sci-fi film, The Tomorrow War boasts of great visual effects, especially in scenes depicting post-apocalyptic America and the snowy desert of Northern Russia. This particular scene shows a loving father reaching out to save his daughter as the world crumbles around them.
Chris Pratt and Yvonne Strahovski are the highlights of this extremely predictable film. Their emotional father-daughter relationship, while pretty conventional, is well developed and moving at times (it serves as a good emotional base for the rest of the action-packed film). Pratt is an excellent actor with great comic timing; he truly belongs in this film, especially during the well-choreographed action sequences and even the poignant moments. The same can be said for Strahovski, whose character tries to maintain the façade of a hardened soldier while struggling with a variety of emotions when she is with her father. The supporting actors, well, exist, but their characters and their sacrifices are clichéd and forgettable, especially when the film starts rushing towards a cathartic climax. In his live-action directorial debut, animator Chris McKay (famous for his involvement in The Lego Movie franchise) could have done better, and could have followed in the footsteps of Brad Bird (director of many Disney and Pixar animated works), who gave us the successful Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Nevertheless, The Tomorrow War is a fun watch on Amazon Prime Video, and something that deserves a proper theatre experience.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.