In The Tomorrow War, Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), comes across as a very believable husband, dad, ex-soldier, high school teacher, father-hater, and scientist wannabe. But can he be / will he be … an alien monster killer?
He’d better be. The fate of the world is in his hands and this is not the time to get a case of the dropsies.
Who Is This Guy, Anyway?
When the film starts we’re really not sure who Dan Forester is, but that quickly resolves itself. Husband, dad, ex-soldier, high school teacher and scientist wannabe roll out pretty much like they’re on a conveyer belt. Hight school teacher Forester is late to a family Christmas party and quickly introduces us to his devoted wife, Emmy (Betty Gilpin), and his doting daughter, Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong / Yvonne Strahovski). He arrives with his phone pressed to his ear. He’s trying to close a deal with a group forming a team to do some “real work in an actual lab,” aka: science stuff. Accordingly, Forester is delivering a full-court press to join that team.
Problem is, while Forester “ran combat missions in Iraq,” the guy on the phone doesn’t think those skills translate well enough to help his project.
Forester rejoins the party with a whole lotta nada. Reading her dad’s long face, Muri says, “Everything’s going to okay, dad.” Forester replies, “Thank you, honey. That’s very sweet of you. Although I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be me telling you that, and not the other way around.”
The Eve of Destruction
Fast forward. A recruiting team from the year 2051 interrupts the World Cup final match to declare that humanity as we know it is on the brink of extinction. Aliens have invaded the planet and are wiping everyone out. The entire future population of the world stands at only 500,000 humans. With new motivation, the world’s leaders send their military forces into the future to change the tide of the war, but to no avail. The aliens, called White Spikes, are ruthless killing machines and show no mercy, nor remorse. When casualties among the fighting elite of today top out at 70 percent, run of the mill civilians are conscripted and sent out to do whatever they can.
No spoiler to know that Dan Forester is among those chosen not to turn their backs to the future.
Not Only Things That Go Boom
If you’re looking for an interesting intro, a lot of action, and some pretty darned clever plot twists, The Tomorrow War delivers.
The writing and production of the film provide all the elements that a waiting public wants to see. The structure is tight, if perhaps a bit formulaic.
The screenwriter, Zach Dean, employs many of the techniques used in good movies:
The film opens with a teaser of Forester arriving in the future that immediately shows that a lot of people are going to die, and not just from the aliens they may encounter. Source: YouTube – THE TOMORROW WAR Official Trailer (2021)
After the open, the film resets the timeline: “28 years earlier ….” This sends a subliminal signal to the audience that they can sit back in their collective chairs and relax knowing that much needed backstory is about to be delivered. Oorah! Source: YouTube – THE TOMORROW WAR Official Trailer (2021)
A whopping 48 minutes pass before the audience sees anything of the aliens. However, the aliens are implied a lot! Many films have built suspense this way. Think: Them!, Jurassic Park, Alien, and Pacific Rim. The list goes on and on. No spoilers with our alien image to the left!! We substituted a poster from The Thing. Source: YouTube – The Poster for The Thing Was Painted In One Day (The Planned Thing Sequel)
Characterizations in The Tomorrow War are diverse and carefully delineated to achieve maximum impact. Like all good action films, it serves up an inverted pyramid of starter characters, knowing that some of them (most of them) won’t make it past the mid-point of the film. Favorites are:
- the plucky big, bearded guy, Cowan (Mike Mitchell),
- the anxiously expectant, driven to survive woman, Norah (Mary Lynn Rajskub),
- the black, tough-as-nails, third-tour veteran, Dorian (Edwin Hodge), and
- the geeky, can’t-shut-his-mouth-to-save-his-life guy who helps diffuse tense situations with his goofy banter, Charlie (Sam Richardson).
Most of the other cast within the film subordinate themselves to deliver the good guys to the battle zone. Even the smaller roles, such as the members of the future military now tasked with prepping civilians to fight (and probably die) are very believable.
At the bottom tip of the inverted pyramid is Dan Forester. We know he won’t be leaving the A.O. in a body bag – he’s the star! Chris Pratt does a great job of being Chris Pratt, which means he is believable inside Forester’s skin. Pratt comes across as a caring spouse and a protective dad. He is also able to imbue Forester with enough grit to make him a believable former military guy, especially when the future war really gets going and he has to try to train and protect his squad on the go. All of these character traits come in handy later because the plot twists we encounter are only believable if we believe in Dan, the Man, Forester.
Don’t tell Chris Pratt, but the aliens are really the stars of the Tomorrow War. And they deliver.
Imagine, if you will, the first draft of the script for The Tomorrow Wars:
Seeing the alien, Dan Forester says, “Oh, Mr. White Spike, what big teeth you have!”
The White Spike snarls, “All the better to eat you up with.”
And, saying this, the wicked White Spike falls upon nearly everyone in the movie, and eats them all up.With sincere apologies to Little Red Riding Hood
All goofing aside, the aliens are the main reason to watch this film. They’re mean, nasty, and extremely bloodthirsty. They climb like monkeys, hit like linebackers, shriek like banshees, and shoot those white spikes of theirs like rapid-fire sharpshooters.
In an article from Daily Variety, called “Inside the Creation of the Terrifying Aliens of ‘The Tomorrow War’,” special effects guru Ken Barthelmey said, “I remember the initial script had a battle scene at the Miami Beach that was mostly in water. Therefore, in my early sketches, I pictured the White Spikes more aquatic with tentacle-like legs. During the design process, those tentacles eventually became the two tails on the back. I also used various animal references that influenced the design.
“For the head of the White Spikes, for example, I tried to incorporate various references of deep-sea fish. Especially the Viperfish was a big influence when I worked on the face.
“I like to mix the anatomy of insects with mammals in my designs. For example, the small front arms are based on Mantis claws and the backplates resemble the shell of a grasshopper.”
Still no spoilers … but the stuff of nightmares nonetheless.
Structure: Pros and Cons
Naturally, you can’t have 140 minutes of dramatic action without a little dramatic … action.
Zach Dean did what good screenwriters do. He worked really, really hard to foreshadow elements in the first act so they could pay them off in later acts. Forester, the teacher, navigates a somewhat cringe-worthy early scene in his classroom that delivers a teen-age volcano expert into our collective laps. Why? You can bet that somewhere later in the film we’re going to need one. Forester’s dad, Slade Mitchell (J.K. Simmons), is a shadowy tech, aviation, and munitions expert/curmudgeon working undercover for the government. Again, what are we going to need in the fourth act? Probably a guy like that!
While some of this foreshadowing tips the believability scale, this is a typical action movie and should not be confused with Primer, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or Inception. Don’t think too much!! Just relax and have fun.
Don’t Stop … Believin’
None of these plot shenanigans should stop anyone from suspending their disbelief watching The Tomorrow War.
A big part of that is because the production design team puts their money into creating a very believable universe for all of this to happen. Present day earth is predictably normal (of course, no mention of our own extinction-level event: Global Climate Change). The jump to the future is visually stimulating. Screenwriter Dean foreshadows the machinery’s instability. During the initial briefing, Lieutenant Ikemba says, “The JumpLink tech is held together with chewing gum and chicken wire. We’ve barely managed to make one very rudimentary wormhole. If we weren’t in an extinction-level event, we’d still be jumping lab rats.” With an intro like that, brimming with confidence, should we be surprised when the inevitable malfunction happens?
Source: YouTube – THE TOMORROW WAR Official Trailer (2021)
In the end, the husband, dad, ex-soldier, high school teacher, father-hater, scientist wannabe puts his mind to it and learns that he doesn’t have to kill ALL the aliens; just the right ones – all the while keeping a sequel (or two) in play. Imagine, if you will, More Tomorrow War, Tomorrow War II, or Back to the Tomorrow War.
It doesn’t take a shock troops visiting from the future to know that this is totally in the cards.