The Tomorrow War
(SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War, so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.
Which kind of figures. Many animation directors have graduated to live action, and you can usually see a similar sensibility at work to their former medium (Brad Bird with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Andrew Stanton with John Carter, Travis Knight with Bumblebee). McKay is ex- of Robot Chicken and was a director on The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie. Visual panache is always secondary to yucks, therefore, which means a massive spectacle like The Tomorrow War, where yucks aren’t the focus unless Sam Richardson is centre frame, gets by in a strictly functional manner. You know, the way all those MCU movies do regardless of director, thanks to honed second unit and FX teams.
Pratt’s as emptily forgettable here as he has been in anything where he wasn’t Peter Quill (so Jurassic Worlds, Passengers). As Dan Forester, he’s a devastating combination of former green beret and science teacher, convinced there’s more to life than serving as a cardigan-wearing devoted father and loving husband. That he has some untold destiny, despite being turned down for a job at a research centre. He has daddy issues too, owing to estrangement from JK Simmons’ conspiracy theory-loving Nam veteran James.
On one fateful day in 2022, kiss-ass women from the future interrupt the Qatar World Cup, protesting the working conditions that produced all the stadiums. Announcing “We are you thirty years in the future” and “We need you to fight beside us. You are our last hope”, they initiate a worldwide draft, all peoples united under the globalist masterstroke of an alien-invasion narrative (“For the first time in human history, the armed forces from every nation are united against one enemy”). And eventually, although it takes about a year, one of those drafted is Dan.
While it’s probably a safe bet that Chris will one day be the size of Brendan Fraser, it turns out that alter-ego Dan need not worry about such matters; he’s dead in the future (more on that in a moment). His daughter is alive, however. Previously seen as Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Muri is now played by Yvonne Strahovski, grown up to be a kick-ass female colonel (there’s a theme developing here; I may have it wrong, but I suspect, in the future, all women will be free to find fulfilment through being as brainlessly macho as men). And a scientist: “I guess when you’re down to less than 500,000 people on the planet, you wear a few hats”. Muri Sue is supremely capable and skilled at everything, then. Only, well… daddy issues. Yep, just like Dan and James (“You quit because you’re a coward” – yawn): “You left us”. Muri manages to cling on to the super-capableness, however, because she doesn’t need dad to find out what’s stopping the toxin they have developed from acting on the queen Whitespike; she just needs him to return it to the past.
Unfortunately, this Forward to the Future scenario has very little wit involved, and its emotional content is largely a lead weight. It’s more than a little amusing, though, that for all the very visible attempts at gender parity, The Tomorrow War finds its third act turning on a father and son overcoming their differences to destroy a fearsomely fertile female foe. Plus, dad rather emasculates and disenfranchises his daughter, denying her agency and future fulfilment (yeah, yeah, I know, Muri saves the future, but at what cost her aspirations?)
On top of such familial strife and resolution, there’s the thorny issue of how precisely time travel functions in The Tomorrow War. And the answer is, not without difficulties. Indeed, while some Gremlins 2-style gestures are made to the inscrutability of specific operations, the end result is akin to coughing audibly while giving an explanation. Which is merely symptomatic of a movie playing fast and loose with exposition and internal logic generally. While it’s explained new recruits don’t know what the Whitespikes look like because they’d be too unnerved to fight them if they did – although, given veterans groups and repeat tours, it’s inconceivable this information would not have leaked out – if Dan is anything to go by, the general public don’t even have any idea of the draft procedure, complete with painfully installed transhumanist arm clamps – enabling time travel – and punishment for draft evasion resulting in imprisonment and/or being replaced by one’s spouse or dependents.
A tour is only seven days, on the basis that, in intentionally profane manner, the Whitespikes return to their nests every seven days, on the Sabbath, “their day of rest”. To avoid paradoxes, draftees must be dead in 2051 to time jump. Likewise, the trainers sent back haven’t been born yet. Which is all very well, but what about any and every action and conversation of those returning to 2022 leading to an altered future? Of the very future intervention leading to a changed/constantly changing 2051? This isn’t clarified, but one assumes (a) they’re saying it doesn’t and (b) those returning from 2051 didn’t grow up in a world where the threat of alien invasion in 2048 was always known about, hence the scenario in which Dan left and died following a car wreck at 11.23 on October 13 2030 (just in time for Agenda 2030). The only way – as usual – for this premise to make sense would be to have infinitely variable parallel timelines branching from any choice or change. Otherwise, you get a daft scenario like Timecrimes, of characters somehow purposefully and consciously enacting their very movements to fulfil the pre-existing timeline.
The Tomorrow War throws a few sops: “Why not jump to an earlier point in the war?” asks Norah (Mary Lynn Rajskub, from 24). “The jump link doesn’t work that way” she is sagely told. You see “Time only flows in one direction”. Except, presumably when you’re jumping into the past: “The jump link placed two rafts in the river thirty years apart”. Ah but screenwriter Zach Dean has thought of an objection to his conceit; he’s way ahead of you: “So why can’t we build more rafts?” The answer is reasonably pathetic, that they only have one machine, made with “chewing gum and chicken wire” and they have to make do. In other words, because reasons (it doesn’t explain why they can’t dump a hundred scientists and engineers in 2040, say, and make all the rafts they need in time for 2051 (which, as if it needs stating, consists of standard-issue urban devastation imagery: a grey, uninteresting, sunless virtual landscape of smoking skyscrapers). I’m sure Dean has a “because reasons” for that too (probably something to do with idiosyncratic portals).
If the time-travel element is typically ill-thought out and nonsensical, it’s only matched by the consummately generic approach to the aliens. If you’ve seen Starship Troopers, Edge of Tomorrow and A Quiet Place, you’ll know the kind of CGI gubbins to expect. Except that the first two of these were devastatingly cynical and satisfyingly plotted respectively, and the third, while nonsensical in premise when inspected with more than a brief glance, succeeded on the basis of a taut little B-movie. The bugs in The Tomorrow War just make you feel weary. Fast, snappy, impervious. Except when Dan needs to engage in fisticuffs with one or his magic daughter leaps down a hole to tackle the queen (“Someone get a harpoon on that tentacle!” is a doozy of a stinker line).
Dean has other movie “inspirations” to draw on besides, though; the Whitespikes hang their victims upside down from the ceiling, pheasant – or Predator – style. Somehow too, thirty years in the future, folk are bafflingly dense. Perhaps you need seven billion rather than half a million to solve the puzzle of “One day they were just here”. Or a timeline in which Spielberg’s War of the Worlds never existed. Dan’s wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin), instantly a spouse of the sort you’d actively want to go and fight in a future war to escape, miraculously realises the reason the aliens “avoided all satellite and radar” when they arrived, and “started tearing apart Russia” is because they’ve been here all long (I couldn’t claim the significance of picking Russia as the first port of call, but I’d hazard the evidence of “volcanic ash and it’s not from Russia. It’s from China” as contributing evidence isn’t a coincidence).
What follows applies an Alien meets The Thing template, as the team visit a spaceship crash site within the largest glacier in Russia, with Whitespikes aboard as cargo “ready to breed like cattle, or weapons”. They are “planet-clearing weapons” (so a bit like the jabs in that regard). The icing on the cake is that their surfacing now is all down to dratted global warming, I mean climate change: “They didn’t wait it out. They thawed out”. GRETA!!!! Are you watching?
Particularly egregious in all this is the lumpen signposting of plot points. We have Chekov’s ancient volcanoes in almost the first scene, such that Dan’s student, obsessed with the subject, is later called on for the skinny on the Millennium Eruption of 946 AD (doubtless one of those authoritative dates). Why didn’t they ask an actual scientist? As for Charlie, Chekov’s fastest-growing geothermal energy company CEO, it’s the same deal. There’s even an Alien vs Predator moment on the glacier, although why the makers wanted to invoke that one is beyond me (and why inject the toxins into the Whitespikes and wake them up; surely it would have been less dangerous simply to blow up the ship immediately?)
Amid the blunderingly obvious on the plotting side, predictive programming is naturally rife. There’s the prerequisite apocalyptic fatalism (“We’ve seen the number projections. We lose. Period”). Those marching for “No more war!” are, of course, wrong, despite entirely validly protesting the sight-unseen threat they are told requires drastic action (now, where is a real-world correlative to sight-unseen threats…) As noted, this menace is seen to bring the world together (rather like the entire world agreeing on a plandemic, except for a few rogue states. They’ll all likely get behind the fake alien invasion too).
Dan: What are you doing?
Muri: Looking for vaccines.
Dan: Oh, did you find any?
Muri: Not really.
Most shamelessly, young Muri is a hugely precocious autodidact, given to asking her father impertinently “Do you know who Selman Waksman is?” before continuing “He discovered the vaccine for tuberculosis”. He found it “in the dirt with worms and poop”. Instead of moping about his destiny (“I know that I have some purpose”), dad should be concerned over the garbage his daughter is spouting. But you see, it’s this obsession with vaccines that will lead to Muri saving the world. Little Muri, who has a large butterfly image on her bedroom wall (MKUltra/Project Monarch programming). Sadly, little Muri is unable to find any vaccines in the dirt. By the time she is an adult, however, she has given up on them, instead focussing her efforts on their main ingredient. That’s right: toxins. It’s toxins that will do for the Whitespikes (a spike being akin to a needle, or something used for injection purposes).
As if to support this, while Dan is telling his despondent class “I know it seems pretty bad, but if there’s one thing the world needs right now, it’s scientists” (through, you know, innovating), what he actually says of his subject is “It’s magic, if you think about it”. Yes, indeed it is, Dan. While we’re on the subject of double meanings, “The way things are going, we’ll be lucky if we don’t kill each other off, long before the aliens get here” is quite telling. And suggestions to “Go tell the UN, and they can think about it until we’re all dead”, and if they get world governments involved “It could turn into a nightmare” promote the idea of benign ineptitude rather than active complicity when it comes to the depopulation agenda.
Of which, the 2050 date reminds me rather of Z/Xabnodax telling how it will be from his perch of insight, amid copious gang stalking, whereby there will be a singularity somewhere around 2045 unless the truly ensouled ones, the 144,000/169,000, win out (a few less than 500,000, but in the same ballpark of diminishment). Z may not have written the screenplay for The Tomorrow War, but it neatly covers a 2020-50 period seen by many as fundamental to an endgame process, in whichever direction it takes us, that is going on now.
The Tomorrow War is not a good movie. It might have got by if McKay were a more inventive director and Pratt a more charismatic “straight” action lead. As it is, Strahovski acts him off screen when it comes to the clichéd emotional beats, and Simmons knocks him to the floor with the funny ones (in fairness, Richardson is pretty funny too, although I could have done with his Sergeant Al Powell moment after earlier hiding like a coward). How might The Tomorrow War have fared for Paramount had it debuted unhampered in the cinemas? At a $200m budget, I’d suggest they were fortunate Amazon was there to pick up the tab (they didn’t have much cash left for the poster by the looks of things; that photoshop makes MCU efforts look like Drew Struzan). There’s nothing here audiences haven’t seen before, and as Passengers proved, Pratt isn’t really a draw when he isn’t accompanied by dinosaurs or a talking raccoon.