dir: Chris McKay
Flicks can be wholly derivative and still work. The Tomorrow War is constructed entirely from bits of dozens of older movies, and still works. I have zero problems with that. I feel so defeated by life right now that, honestly, if a film can have flashing lights in it and the dialogue mostly matches the moving lips of the actors, I’m pretty much convinced it’s masterpiece theatre.
I don’t particularly love seeing Chris Pratt as a serious dad type character wanting to desperately sacrifice himself in order to save the world, because he’s far better suited to goofy nutty characters, but he is getting old, and he is married to a child of Schwarzenegger, so maybe he hopes he’s the next Arnie? This is certainly not a comical romp, so there’s that against it, first up.
There’s an alien enemy that threatens to kill everyone on the planet, but it’s a threat that won’t happen for 30 years or so. Every second science fiction flick has ruthless aliens wanting to kill us just for existing. Just yesterday I saw a different flick where aliens want to kill all people because we’re such noisy buggers. And these creatures are somehow even nastier, and they can see AND hear, so we’re doubly fucked.
They are pretty horrible looking, and for the longest time I didn’t know what characters were talking about when they were talking about this alien enemy: they call them “white spikes”, but what I thought I was hearing was “The White Stripes”.
And I thought “hey, that’s a bit unkind. Maybe not all of their albums were as great as their good ones, but they never hurt anyone (except each other)”.
So now you know, I’ve spoiled it horribly: at some time in the future a billions clones of Meg and Jack White appear on the planet savagely killing humanity with the riffs from The Hardest Button to Button.
The greatest implausibility occurs right at the start of the movie. A house full of people, somewhere in the States, is having some kind of party, I think Christmas maybe. At this party, this party full of Americans, I mean American Americans, they have a game of soccer on the big screen television.
During the soccer match, a portal opens, and armed people from the future walk through.
The implausibility I’m talking about isn’t people coming through a portal from the future. The fundamental implausibility is the concept that a house full of Americans would be watching a soccer game, even if it’s the World Cup, even in fictional entertainment.
This has never happened in human history, and will never. Time travel will come about, but a house full of WASP Americans with a few African-American friends wearing sweaters will never be watching such a game in order to find out that humanity is fucked.
With that MASSIVE plothole out of the way, the rest of it is much easier to accept. Future people recruit middle-aged shmoes to transport them forward in time so they can fight for the remnants of humanity. The people can only be middle-aged, and, in another weird twist, they are people that will be dead soon anyway.
Dan (Chris Pratt) doesn’t want to hear that. He doesn’t seem too put out by it, but what he’s really looking forward to is a chance to matter, to do something that means something.
Before he walked back into the palatial house full of people, including a wife (Betty Gilpin, wasted in a worried wife role) and daughter Muri (Ryan Keira Armstrong), Dan was despondent because he tried and failed to get through the interview process into what he thought was a more meaningful job. He is not content with his lot in life as a high school biology teacher. His science degree, and surviving deployments to wars as a veteran is not enough to have the private sector bow down and cower before him – because he lacks experience.
He is sad, but then the war happens sometime in the future, and he has meaning in his life again.
Purpose, so many of us crave purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the afternoon. Dan has a purpose, but what he also wants is for the world to acknowledge that he’s great, and that great things should come from his actions.
At first, what he thinks is that he could do something great in the future, and maybe that will convince people he’s awesome in the past? So he flies into the future with a bunch of other people, mostly there to laugh at his few jokes (they don’t laugh, but they do listen when he bellows orders) and be comic relief as he does serious stuff like try to kill aliens.
Almost nothing he does makes a difference. Most of the people sent forward in time die in minutes. In this latest tour of duty, almost all of them will die. At this stage there are about 500,000 people left on the planet, the rest having been eaten or turned into handbags by the alien menace. By the end of Dan’s time in the future, there will be no-one important left whatsoever, and it’s clear that the planet is doomed.
However, what really happens in the future is that he gets to see the result of what would have happened had the aliens not invaded, and had he just died a depressed sack of crap back in 2030: it would have made a bunch of people really sad, but paradoxically the example he set before he became a bitter sack of shit would inspire the one person who will actually save the world even though she’s never going to know it: his daughter Muri.
Father and daughter get to meet in the future, played by the great, the always great Yvonne Strahovski, or should I have said Australia’s Own Yvonne Strahovski, who can elevate any role she assays into something special.
Before this point of the film, where she’s replicating the coldness towards Dan that we see him exhibit towards his own father, played by the great bearded JK Simmons, we’re meant to get this sinking feeling, and I’ll be the first to admit I did experience it. Dan’s father explains to him why he had to leave him and his mother, because PTSD was making him act out in horrible ways, and he didn’t want to hurt them. Dan scoffs at this, and tells the man he’ll never forgive him, and he’ll never know his granddaughter.
Muri explains to an uncomprehending Dan that he abandoned his family, and they were devastated by it, and went on to die a pointless death, and all he can say is “but I would never!”, even though we can see the signs.
In the hands of anyone other than Strahovski, this could have come across as mawkish bullshit, but she really sells it as the emotional heart of the movie: that a man is somehow on a shitty path, and that without some acts of heroism and a course correction, the world and everyone in it will end.
What’s Dan’s part in all of this? To shoot aliens, do some heroic shit, eventually listen to his daughter, take matters into his own hands, save the world, forgive his father AND THEN everything might be okay in this world.
Is it credible? Uh, I guess. Is the action okay? Uh, I guess it’s okay. There are explosions, lots of people die, the incompetence of the future people is on clear display when they kill most of Dan’s cohort before the aliens even come into it. I don’t know that any relationship in the whole flick makes any sense or has any resonance other than a dad’s desperate desire not to let his daughter down.
It can be a pretty powerful motivator. Usually, when they’re young, it’s the thing that compels us to go to far flung department stores and hunt down particular obscure or massively in demand toys, and when they’re older we try to pretend we understand when they’re talking about quadratic equations and graphing parabolas so they don’t realise we’re total dumbasses compared to them. It’s one thing to see disappointment in the eyes of one’s partner, but in your kid’s eyes, it’s so fucking gutting.
Well. So. What’s a man to do other than save the fucking earth and kill every goddamn alien bastard, huh? If he was younger you’d probably insist on a Tom Hanks type doing this, or someone you don’t necessarily associate with action roles. But no, not this time. Pratt is meant to be the square-jawed hero who will kill anything and anyone in order to not let Muri down, and everything else is kinda secondary, even though there really isn’t any reason why he is The One who makes this happen. One could argue that a good leader knows how to inspire people, coordinate their efforts and create an outcome greater than the sum of their individual parts, but everyone else does the heavy lifting except for him shooting aliens sometimes a bit better than anyone else, even though there are millions of them to shoot.
But. Only he can be a better man by forgiving his dad. Only he can, through forgiving his dad, convince him to come and help in Russia, as they try to end the alien menace once and for all. And only he can say, when his father elects to sacrifice himself in order to save his son, “Fuck That” and block him, in order to retain all the glory for himself.
The flick is, I’m not ashamed to contradict almost anything I’ve written thus far, plenty enjoyable, and despite being long as fuck is fairly well put together from dozens of better films. The time contradictions / paradoxes are so effortlessly waved away that you forget about them too, at least if you’re a gullible sad sack like me and easily get sucked into stories where white middle-aged middle-class losers do anything they can to not look like lame sellouts in front of their children.
7 times Tomorrow When the War Began could have been a better title oops already taken out of 10
“If there's one thing that the world needs right now, it's scientists. We cannot stop innovating. That's how you solve a problem.” – what’s the solution when the scientists are the problem? - The Tomorrow War