The Dark Herald Recommends: The Tomorrow WarThe Dark Herald
Time travel movies are always a problem.
Either they fall into logical pitfalls due to screwing around in the past or they are in the predestination genre, where everything the character does advances a narrative that you already learned in the first half of the movie. The latter can be clever, but the truth is after you’ve seen a couple you’ve seen them all. Which makes that its own form of predestination.
I’ll get into the problems this film has in a little bit.
The Tomorrow War started filming for Paramount in the fall of 2019, wrapped in January of 2020, and was scheduled for a Christmas release of that year. However, Covid kicked that back to July of 2021. There were quite a lot of changes in corporate strategy at Paramount, Viacom was reabsorbed, CBS-All Access failed, and Paramount decided that it had to double down on a new streaming service if it was ever going to catch the $20 Billion Dollar Dragon it had started chasing. The Tomorrow War didn’t fit with Paramount’s marketing strategy for Paramount Plus. Apparently, Paramount lost faith in the theatrical revenue potential of the project, (not without reason). TTW is not part of an established franchise, nor did it come from an existing IP. It was a wholly original IP, as such, it would have needed a lot of marketing muscle to gain traction. And while it could have been used as a halo property to attract eyeballs when PP+ starts launched, it was going to be burning up $15 million a month in interest payments until then.
Talks started with Amazon a month after it’s original release date.
The Tomorrow War’s original budget was $200 million, and it was sold to Amazon for $200 million back in April. This was kind of interesting in terms of Hollywood business practices.
MGM was in talks to sell its latest James Bond movie but their walk-away price was $600 million. Since it was Bond there were undoubtedly a ton of backend deals attached to it, Eon Productions, Daniel Craig, the Fleming Estate and they had already started spending money on the marketing before the lockdown. Paramount which appears to wholly own this property could call it good at $200 million. As for Bond, Amazon decided it was a better deal to just buy MGM Studios outright for $8.45 billion than just one crappy Daniel Craig movie for $600 million.
The Tomorrow Wars starts with Chris Pratt flashing into existence in the middle of the sky and then plummeting to Earth screaming, surrounded by a bunch of other people screaming and falling. He gets lucky and hits a skyscraper pool. Which should have killed him anyway but he was protected by summer movie plot armor. A bunch of people land in the pool with him and then the scene cuts away to a suburban scene that happened decades before and there is Chris Pratt again in a more serene setting taking a job interview callback.
Starting with an action scene and then backtracking is a tried and true formula but they did it wrong here. I’ll get to that.
We do get to find out about Chris Pratt’s character with admirable story economy. Dan Forester was a Green Beret Sergeant who served two tours in Iraq. That scans, all of the Green Beanies were on Stoploss for a while. So, he probably had to stay in a lot longer than he planned. He finally got out went to college to pursue a degree in science magic, got it and it didn’t do him any good because he spent too much time in the military and big businesses absolutely do NOT want that kind of leadership experience. I empathize.
Chris Pratt does his job and comes across as the tail-end Gen-Xer who had big dreams but life got in the way.
Dan has it good in all other aspects of his life. Hotwife, healthy young daughter, and a home he shouldn’t be able to afford on a high school science teacher’s salary. Maybe his wife is a pharma rep? Anyway, after getting shot down for his dream job he sits down with his very young daughter to watch the World Cup.
Which is interrupted by a squad of soldiers from the future. Their commander informs the world that in 2051 Humanity is a critically endangered species. They need help from the past if they are to survive.
I’ll need to try and explain the time travel rules here but they are pretty inconsistent. Once you go back in time you can set up a beacon that connects with one in the future and use that to send people forward and back. However, the beacons are temporally locked relative to each other. As one progresses forward in time so does the other.
They send what military is qualified to go but they are all wiped out. There is a 70% causality rate against the White Spikes (that’s the alien menace).
My reaction would have been. “Okay, how does this time travel dealie work again? Got it! Sucks to be you, I guess, we’re headed for the Cenozoic Era. If we can’t handle the White Spikes after 60 million years of preparation we deserve to go under.”
A draft is instituted.
Forester is drafted because he is qualified. His qualification is that he will be dead in seven years. Everyone who is drafted had died before 2051. Because if you run into yourself there would be PARADOXES!!!
Like, ya know, like in Time Cop? If touch yourself in the future you both, like, vanish and stuff!
This part is dumb. No getting around it. While I like the movie as a popcorn burner, this part is idiotic. Predestination is clearly and obviously not in play here. The draftees who die weren’t scheduled to clock out in the future, they died sometime before 2051. But since they died in the future they couldn’t, now die in the past. If you survive your tour, unlikely as that is, you will have so significantly altered your life that you won’t die in the same accident that was supposed to kill you. You would likely give up smoking or drinking on the spot and you would be constantly monitoring yourself for those little changes that indicate a big problem is coming.
Now the black soldier who was dying in seven months from cancer wasn’t going to change anything and he knew it. That was why he had been out on three tours of duty already.
Dan goes to see his estranged father who appears to be a regular at Vox Popoli. They argue for a bit and then Dan decides he’d rather die horribly than accept his father’s help.
So, he heads off to the future, leaving his sobbing family behind.
Civilians are drafted for a tour of one week and receive only a couple of hours of familiarization training with their weapons before they are sent to their certain death. Yeah, that seems dumb as hell too. To an American. But I have been in parts of the world where that was pretty much all there was to Basic.
Dan gets a few minor warmup missions after crashing into the pool, which by the way was a major goof. All tension that scene could have had was destroyed in the opening of the movie. You knew he was going land in the pool and live.
Dan Forester meets Colonel Forester, his daughter Muri. The reunion is restrained on her part. It turned out that after a few years of getting turned down again and again for the jobs he was desperate for, made him bitter. His marriage collapsed and eventually he had an accident that costs him his life.
I had commentor claim that this was after he “came back.” I gave that scene a second look. She didn’t say anything about it after he came back from this mission. She was referring to the future that would have happened if the Tomorrow War hadn’t.
This would indicate that they have crossed into a parallel world because the act of coming back in time has had no impact on this world in any way shape or form. Except the writer didn’t think this one through all that well or just assumed the audience wouldn’t.
Regardless, this is a standard Hollywood A-Story and B-Story. The A-story in this case is the main story of the war. The B-story is Dan having a conflict between what he wants and what he needs. Dan eventually has an epiphany and realized that what he needs wasn’t his career it was his family.
And at its core, that is what this movie is about. The resolution of family disputes the importance of family over the pursuit of material gain.
Chris Pratt is a strong enough actor to anchor this film. J.K. Simons ably supports his performance as the estranged father who is in much the same boat his son finds himself in with his adult child in the future.
The action scenes are fast-paced and exciting, if overly fond of the color green. The alien design is good, but I think the production company was a little too proud of it, given the lengths they went to, in order to hide it.
It’s one of those movies that manages to make the fun overcome the dumb so that your dumbness detector is shorted out for a while and you can just enjoy the action schlock for what it is.
I’d take it over Black Widow in a heartbeat.
The Dark Herald recommends with confidence.