The Tomorrow War is not just your typical time-traveling sci-fi flick. Sure, it is overflowing with many of the tropes and cliches of the genre but what it also has is more plotholes than any other movie I have seen in several years. Add that on top of the myriad of other issues this movie is trying to juggle and you have yourself a waste of just over two hours that you will desperately want to get back.
At first, I had no interest in seeing this movie but a buddy of mine, whose film tastes heavily clash with my own, suggested it with high praise. The pitch was “time travel with a war against aliens that look like Cloverfield monsters“. Sure, that doesn’t quite scream “Oscar Worthy” but it was enough to capture my attention. However, I found myself furiously confused at the shoddy writing, excessive plot bandaids, and countless excuses the movie makes at trying to justify its absurd logic, or more accurately, its absence from logic, that I simply can’t recommend this movie to anyone ever.
I want to share that I wrote down my thoughts throughout the movie on the Notes app on my phone so as not to miss a beat. By the time the film’s 138-minute runtime came to a close, I quickly skimmed it to clear any obvious typos but I refuse to go back and be more thorough because this movie sucks so bad, that it doesn’t deserve that level of quality editing. So while there are obvious spoilers ahead, just know that I wrote this as best as I could in the moment but will not go back again to enhance it. If writer Zach Dean chose to write this movie as poorly as he chose to do, I can do the same with my review. Here’s to you, Zachary.
The movie begins with your typical main character introduction of Dan Forester, an American Everyman with the most cliche sci-fi backstory of all time- a hunky science teacher with a military background having served two tours in Iraq. Dan has the perfect family and big dreams. But all that changes when a group of time-traveling military soldiers appear during a World Cup in Qatar and reveal that mankind is about to face extinction at the hands of an alien race.
Right off the bat, I couldn’t help but notice a really poor entrance for the time-traveling military. Not so much the context of arriving during the World Cup- there’s practically no better event to get your message out with the whole world watching. More so the production value, or laughably lack thereof when they arrive so clearly on wires before delivery of an incredibly forced and jarring segment of unnatural dialogue, only in English by the group’s leader, an attractive female who for some reason has time to put on flattering makeup before heading across space and time to warn the past of impending doom less than a year away. On top of that, I couldn’t help but feel that what follows, a montage of the world over accepting the message with little resistance or skepticism, felt incredibly rushed. I get that the writers probably felt that the audiences need not worry about that exposition and conflict bullshit in order to jump right into the following scene where Chris Pratt takes off his shirt to reveal his rippling abs, but whatever.
Despite Dan feeling his life is meant to have a greater purpose, he doesn’t immediately jump at the opportunity to serve his country and the entire human race by traveling to the future to fight what with his military background, he is forced into it by means of a draft. The military has banded together with the world over to force every able body into the war of tomorrow by slapping on an armband that acts as a transceiver of sorts and tracks the wearer and can also zap you through time or something.
Naturally, Dan’s wife hates the idea and asks him to turn his back on the human race by visiting his estranged and also hunky father, James (J.K. Simmons), and requesting that through his unlimited engineering knowledge and distrust of the government, to remove the arm device safely so Dan can avoid the draft. I couldn’t help but feel as if destiny came knocking and Dan repeatedly slammed the door in its face like he was dealing with pesky Jehovah’s witnesses.
At first, James distrusts his son for showing up out of the blue, considering their disconnect, and Dan gets furious since his father was the one who abandoned him and his mother in the first place decades earlier. The two are unable to reconcile with each other and Dan leaves with the device still attached.
So far, everything in the story seems too rushed, too quickly skimmed over, too convenient, and at the best of times, glaringly flawed all just to mark off another “what it takes to make a sci-fi-movie” checkbox.
Dan is reluctant to leave his beloved family, despite it being something he must do for their futures as well as literally everyone else’s on the planet but heads to basic training after a brief unemotional farewell to his wife and daughter.
During training, all of your cliche archetypes are here including the obese dopey Midwesterner who speaks out of turn for the sake of comedic relief and disrupts training, the slightly goofy supporting character who talks too much and will undoubtedly become close to the main character, the badass military man who makes a misogynistic comment interrupting the initial moment of connection between the main and friendly characters, and of course, the scientist who speaks a bunch of time-travel nonsense to explain away any logical reason why they can’t go back further in time or use the time travel devices in a more practical way to gain the advantage in the war (literally the reason they give is basically “it doesn’t work that way because then we wouldn’t have a movie”).
Without much warning, Dan and his merry band of draftees are forced to go into the future through the “jumplink” and arrive at the wrong coordinate of Miami Beach, far above the ground causing many to fall to their gruesome deaths. Luckily, Dan and every other side character we have been introduced to lands safely.
At this point in the movie, Dan nor the audience has been educated on the “whitespikes”, the alien enemies the humans are at war with. The audience has not seen a picture, combat footage, or anything remotely significant to help them prepare against their extraterrestrial foe, which seems to only serve the singular purpose of making the audience wait, despite this clearly being something you wouldn’t want to prepare your recruits for if you’re going to travel 30 god damn years back to the past to help save all of mankind. This fact is so on-the-nose, that one of the supporting characters specifically asks this before being sent to the future to which one of the military men from the future says that they don’t show recruits pictures “because then no one would want to go” which is one of the most remarkably lazy plot points I have ever heard.
So far, at this point, I am just under 40 minutes in and I can say without a doubt, that I’ve never seen so many attempts to thwart what the audience is saying to themselves out loud. So many obvious “well why don’t you just do this” and “why don’t you do that” moments are handled by having characters speak on behalf of the audience just so these quite legitimate questions can be addressed with incredibly bullshit answers for the purpose of “BECAUSE THEN WE WOULDN’T HAVE A F*CKING MOVIE!”
I honestly don’t know how audiences could have possibly scored this film an 80% because if that’s true, we deserve to be annihilated by an alien race.
Dan and his squad are then tasked to carry out a rescue mission despite every member of his squad having no combat training and none of them, after traveling through time nearly 30 years, absolutely none of them have been informed about the enemy- not what they look like, not what their strengths are, not what their weakness is, save for the badass misogynistic military guy who has allegedly served a few tours to the future and has experience in killing whitespikes.
As the squad gets closer to their objective, which changes from saving people (everyone is dead) to collecting ampoules, Dan and the others encounter many dead “soldiers” and a whitespike corpse (that audience can’t see, you know, cuz suspense), where the badass military guy takes a souvenir in the form of a claw from the dead whitespike.
Outside, the obese Midwestern guy and some other comedic actress who got the job probably because she was cheaper since the budget was mostly spent on Pratt and Simmons’ salary, notice some movement among some smoke that are clearly whitespikes mobilizing for an attack.
By the time we encounter our first whitespike, half the squad is dead. But let me tell you, despite being incredibly predictable (everyone who died was just side characters to side characters that didn’t even have a name), the whitespikes looked rad. They indeed look like the Cloverfield monster but act more like a cross between a Necromorph from Dead Space and a velociraptor. These creatures are so cool by design, I immediately found myself rooting for them over the obnoxious humans (save for Pratt).
As the mission goes south, and south it goes fast, only a handful of the squad makes it out alive after a heroic sacrifice by the dopey Midwestern guy and the actress whose schedule was open and didn’t cost too much to cast.
Recovering from a successful mission at great cost, Dan runs into his daughter Muri, who is now a colonel and the one in charge of their mission. Muri says they are living on borrowed time and that she brought him from the past with a specific purpose but tells him that she won’t tell him what it is until the right time.
Dan is then tasked by Muri to aid in an extraction mission regarding a female whitespike that survived a toxin in the form of a weapon used to successfully kill male whitespikes. Muri says they need the female to find out what can kill it and until they do, the human species will surely be wiped out.
Before the extraction is carried out, Muri reveals to Dan that they don’t know where the whitespikes came from. They just showed up and started eating anything and everything.
As I sat there watching the plot unfold in such a sloppy manner, I couldn’t help but think of how irresponsible it was to have a draft where you take people from the past, have them fight in the future to serve their term, only to send them back to the past again. Wouldn’t this like, jeopardize the time continuum or screw with the past so much that they couldn’t possibly determine or keep track of the future? Maybe some background characters asked this already and it was addressed or something. Whatever, there’s no real reason to try and make sense of any of this. Trying to make sense of the plot is like trying to capture oxygen with a fishing net.
Muri’s squad is successful in capturing the female whitespike but as she cries out a horde of males arrive and kill everyone in the area except for Muri and Dan, who miraculously escape on foot despite the whitespikes being fast enough to outrun and takedown helicopters (oxygen, fishing net). As the two stand on a nearby beach waiting for extraction, Muri reveals that Dan left Muri and her mom, like Dan’s father before him. Muri adds that her parents got divorced due to Dan never being happy with his life. Not too long after, Dan dies from trauma after a car accident. The next scene shows that they somehow miraculously managed to retrieve the female. I have no idea how.
They then show the female sedated, which again, makes next to no sense as they probably could have avoided all this bullshit and saved everyone in the previous scenes if they just sedated the female in the first place instead of trying to shove her into a god damn cage while conscious and furiously slaughtering everyone.
Muri and Dan continue their plan to find a toxin to effectively use against the females, where Muri reveals her plan to send the positive results back to the past with Dan so it can be mass-produced in his time to fight the whitespikes. Dan expresses his displeasure with the idea of leaving her behind when she tells him that she is destined to die as they can’t make enough of the toxin to win the war in the future. As they debate the logistics of their father-daughter relationship, the female cries out and thousands of males descend upon their military base in response.
The two fight valiantly but the base is quickly overrun and Muri is severely wounded. The clock is ticking with only a few minutes before Dan is sent back to the past and he has no choice but to watch future Muri die. This sequence is far too melodramatic and beyond absurd for the sake of getting a cool slow-motion shot but whatever.
Dan is zapped back to the past safely where he sees Charlie, the lovable goof who confesses that he only lived because he hid like a coward. Dan then leaves the camp and returns to his wife who embraces him with loving open arms.
They return back home where young past Muri was apparently left alone by herself making glitter art to greet her dad. Unfortunately, Dan is distressed and incapable of processing the trauma he just experienced. Later, Dan tells his wife Emmy everything about what he experienced and what future Muri was working on.
Emmy then deduces from Dan’s rambling that the first attack, which takes place in 2048, is the wrong year to look for signs of the whitespikes landing, something no one could ever figure out before. Lucky for Dan, one of his students in his biology class figures out the exact point of origin where the whitespikes arrive and it’s discovered that they have been under the ice in Russia for a thousand years. With this new information, the future seems hopeful again but of course, the American military refuses to listen which leaves only one viable option; Dan’s father, James.
With James’ help, along with some other members of the future military who happened to make plenty of toxin to kill the whitespikes, the group heads out on their mission through the snowy landscape since James apparently has a plane that can carry a dozen or so people and enough snowmobiles and equipment to get through the icy tundra. They then somehow, in some way, managed to find the exact location of the whitespikes frozen position and blow up the surrounding landscape where they immediately find their spaceship which has been buried in the ice for centuries.
Dan proceeds to give a motivating speech that includes your typical “we go in, chances are we don’t come out” line and continue inside the frozen spaceship. As all this going on, one can’t help but wonder just how a group of a dozen or so rag-tag individuals managed to find the crash site with such ease while brilliant minds across the globe through decades of research and time travel could not. Oxygen. Fishing net.
Inside the ship, it is revealed that the whitespikes appear to be cargo on a ship of some other intelligent species. Whether or not the intent of the intelligent species was to release the whitespikes and clear the earth of its inhabitants or this all just happened by circumstance after the ship crashed unintentionally on earth is unknown.
The crew fights bravely to destroy the last of the whitespikes but only Charlie, James, and Dan survive. James then tells Dan that the female escaped and one can’t help but wonder just how in the hell anyone got J.K. Simmons to agree to this. Must’ve been one hell of a payday.
The remaining three track the female and attempt to bring it down through relentless gunfire and one insane use of a snowmobile. What then transpires is a heartfelt moment between father and son gunfire as they unload round after round into the female. After an intense scuffle, Dan is able to finish off the female by getting her to swallow the toxin as he Leonidas kicks her off of a cliff where the female dies.
Later, the news is shown reporting the success and triumph over the whitespikes in the war where the same American military official who declined to help takes all the credit for the swift actions of Dan and the others.
With the future no longer in jeopardy, it’s clear that writer Zach Dean and director Chris McKay took the extra care to address the time-loop that transpires here between those that traveled from the future to help the past stop the future war and therefore they never would have gone back in time in the first place and… you know what? F*ck it. I don’t f*cking care. This movie is infuriatingly inaccurate and riddled with plot holes and nonsense that could have been better told by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss… okay, maybe not that bad but you get it.