‘The Tomorrow War’ Is a World in Need of Animal Control ⭐︎⭐︎

If more science dudes looked like Chris Pratt, there’d be no problems getting fan clubs for science teachers. That’s not to say I’m a fan of the film’s casting or script. There are so many problems with “The Tomorrow War” where stupid scientists work on time-jumping and animal control that it’s hard to love Pratt and appreciate the appearance of Yvonne Strahovski (from “Chuck”). If ever a script called for taking a stereotype and taking it to hero-hood, “The Tomorrow War” is it but the diversity played here seems to be strictly a binary of Black and White.

Filmed in Atlanta, but “The Tomorrow War” script is a bit cagey about just where our hero Dan Forester, former Green Beret and current high school biology teacher, lives. After the cold open that literally throws Dan into water to dampen the situation in a flash forward, we flash back to December in 2022. Dan’s on the phone, getting “the call” that might take him where he wants to go: research. This is also an expositional ruse where we learn he served two tours in Iraq, worked at the Army Research Lab (but we’ve no idea what kind of research) but while he’s in the final two for this job, he has no private sector work experience.

If you live in California, you already know that Dan is not a cracking scientist nor someone who interviews well, but that’s really a matter of a poorly written script and a lack of fact-checking. During “the call” he drops a college name, saying he studied (on the GI Bill) at a Cal State. I immediately thought “which one” and my snobby private university BS scientist husband said, “Does it matter? It’s a community college.”

Cal States are not community colleges. They are public universities that are not as hard to get into as campuses of the University of California. In addition, none of the Cal States are rated as the top universities for biology and biochemistry according to US News. UC Berkeley is number five and UC San Francisco is number six. The top two are Harvard and MIT, in that order. The highest ranked California university is Stanford at number three. The best choice, given the premise, might have been UC Davis due to its link to veterinary sciences (number 33). Caltech (California Institute of Technology) is number 37, but already linked to the space program and this science fiction movie is (spoiler alert) about space and aliens. One of these universities does get name dropped in the film so the contrast is rather obvious. 

Our man Dan doesn’t get the job; it was a curtesy call. After some manly kicking of trash cans to vent his frustrations, Dan returns to the Christmas party he’s throwing at his house with his loving wife, Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and settles down on the couch with his daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) to watch the soccer World Cup finals in Qatar. During this match, a time warp brings people from the future (2051) to the soccer field where a Black woman leader, Lt. Hart (Jasmine Mathews), tells the world, or at least all soccer fans, that the future needs their help to fight a war against aliens, the Whitespikes.

The world sends their military service men and women to the future, but only 20 percent survive so now there’s a worldwide draft where, Dan deduces, draftees are people who have, according to 2051 information, already died before the war begins. Their trainers from the future are all young and thus have yet to be born. All this will prevent a paradox as they go through the time jump link that like a bridge between two time boats held together by “chewing gum and chicken wire” as time can only move forward and never backward.

This puts a damper on high school students’ morale at Wilson High where Dan teaches. What’s the point of stressing about grades and learning about photosynthesis or things like volcanoes like student and amateur volcanologist Martin (Seth Scenall) when the world is going to end in their short lifetimes?

In Dan’s group are:

  • African American Charlie (Sam Richardson), a guy with a PhD in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and formerly department chair at Georgia Tech and currently director of R&D at Wallace Technology
  • Red shirt wearing African American Dorian (Edwin Hodge), who is on his third tour and wears a Whitespike claw around his neck having been the sole survivor of the first time jump to Russia and has terminal cancer
  • Norah (Mary Lynn Rajskub), an alarmed looking White woman who wishes the trainers lied about why they don’t get to see images of the Whitespikes pre-jump
  • Cowan (Mike Mitchell) an overweight White guy who you know isn’t going to be able to outrun a six-year-old on his first scooter let alone some vicious, world-dominating creature

Dan gets drafted and thinks about draft dodging with the help of his estranged father, James (JK Simmons) who suffering from PTSD from Vietnam, left his wife and child. Dan is bitter and suspects that James is making money by transporting draft dodgers to places unknown. In the end, knowing that his wife would be forced to replace him, Dan decides to obey the draft order.

The recruits end up being severely under-trained and are quickly dropped into the future and I mean literally presented as falling from the sky in an ultimate bad beam-me-down experience. What is the modern equivalent of cannon fodder? Luckily, our hero lands in a rooftop pool somewhere in Miami. From there, he must roll and find a lab and help evacuate the medical team who have been developing a toxin to kill the Whitespikes. His contact: Colonel Muri Forester (Yvonne Strahovski), his daughter in the future.

The man who would seem to be the natural leader, red-shirt Dorian is too bitter to be of use. He reminds them to shoot for the neck and belly. While Dan tells him they are there to save lives, Dorian tells him, “But you didn’t; you’ll see. Nothing you do here matters.” The claw he has around his neck Is “not a souvenir; it’s a reminder.” Dorian’s dying in six months from cancer.

The aliens are over-sized insect like beasts that rage, bite and tear, without any particular strategic plan. The Whitespikes are like humongous fleas with Doctor Octopus-like tentacles that shoot spikes. The alien invasion is victory by infestation. And the males seem to oddly protect single female(s) in a hoarding fashion. How curious. Usually it is infertile females protecting a queen (bee, ant or terrier) with the necessary males only used for reproduction, existing outside the social strata. But at some point you have to wonder what kind of vehicle brought these creatures to Earth and is this planet only a picnic stop?

The scientists of the future have developed a toxin, but it only affects the males. A female must be captured (Although if you kill all the males wouldn’t reproduction stop?). When you see the frightfully incompetent manner that this army cages a female, you’ll know the importance of zoo keepers and animal control officers. What do I mean? If a creature is cornered in a rectangular hole (Don’t worry. The corners are rounded to seem more “natural”) and you have a cage, why attempt to get the creature out into the open area first, rope it and lead/drag it to the cage? Why not put the cage’s door open against the hole so that when the creature comes out it is in the cage? If the answer is the door doesn’t slide, but it is hinged, that’s clearly a failure in planning. If the creature can bite or otherwise attack through the cage, that’s also a failure in planning. The real life people behind wild animal capture and transport must be laughing at the stupidity of these scientists and armed forces.  

Getting the female to the lab requires a helicopter lift and a million males begin to swarm, taking down some helicopters, making me wonder just how do these creatures communicate? It isn’t by cellphone and there’s no mention of sonar. Is it pheromones? And haven’t pest control used pheromone lures? Okay, we can add pest control experts to the zoo keepers and animal control officers as necessary experts who should have been consulted.

Keith Powers and Yvonne Strahovski in “The Tomorrow War.”

At the lab, the Colonel Muri Forester works alone in the lab with this female Whitespike which is now muzzled and chained. Does this seem reasonable experimental animal management or something out of a twisted S&M bestial bondage fantasy? Of course, I admit that I didn’t watch the TV series “Hannibal” but I remember that Hannibal Lector and Batman’s Bane both had leather face masks. This Whitespike doesn’t rise to their level of personal villainy, but does bring to question lab protocol.

If you have a secure laboratory and your enemies (millions of males) are breaching the floating mines and the walls to get to this specific female (that has been drugged and thus would seem to be unable to emit vocal or sonar signals), then wouldn’t you want to destroy it (shots to the neck) before leaving? The writers might be shocked to know that while science might not be a sport, research is a team effort. Working alone with a dangerous creature? idiocy. Leaving the drugged female alone and alive so that people can be attacked inside as well as from outside? Bad animal management and military strategy.

In this World War whatever, Asia does get mentioned (Korea and China), but just as a passing reference and not as a drop-in diversity diversion like the sudden trip to South Korea in “Black Panther” or dropping into Mongolia in “Loki.” Qatar is also in West Asia and Israel is also visually alluded to in a montage of soldiers. East Asia gets a mention via the 946 Millennium eruption (Paektu Mountain which is also known as the Tianchi Eruption) I guess the binary nature of Black and White representation in the name of diversity is almost excusable because in Atlanta, the demographics are 51 percent Black or African American, 40 percent White, 4 percent Asian and 4 percent Latino/Hispanic. If Dan’s home is supposed to represent the average US city, that would be different with Black or African American going down to 13 percent and Asian American rising to 5.4 percent, but then there’s that shooting in Atlanta. And then there’s the reboot of “Hawaii 5-0” that had a Black/African American governor even though historically Hawaii has never had a Black governor (Richard T. Jones as Governor Sam Denning Seasons 2-4) and Black or African Americans represent only 1.6 percent of the state population.

According to the script, the Russians and the Asians have quickly been dispatched in the future because the infestation of Whitespikes began in northern Russia and worked its way down through Asia. That explains the absence of people of Asian descent in the future, but not the present-day where 60 percent of the world population is in Asia and almost 20 percent of the world population is Chinese and another 20 percent Asian Indian.

The camera sweep of the athletes and the spectators in Qatar seem to be part of a diversity diversion–these West Asians are not part of the story, but add to the production’s diversity quota. If this were a novel instead of a movie, this would be poor writing because it doesn’t even function as a red herring. Why mention Qatar at all if no one from there is going to have impact on this story?

No person of Asian descent gets to play up the stereotype of science geek with the added twist of becoming a hero. Where are the rooftop Korean Americans? Those of us who survived the LA Riots know these Asian Americans rise to the occasion and it would have been cool to have Pratt have to match macho-ness against someone like hunky Daniel Dae Kim.

“The Tomorrow War” does have touching moments between present-day daughter and dad and future world daughter and dad. What will dads do for their kids? Save the world, of course. One can still hope that Colonel Muri Forester will find her Chuck in the future and wistfully remember their adventures on Santa Monica Beach. This film is a nay for stupid military tactics and its approach to diversity, but a yes for women in STEM and spending high school being a factoid geek.

Originally scheduled to be released by Paramount on 25 December 2020, “The Tomorrow War” was released on 2 July 2021 to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

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