By Peter Pu
Life doesn’t usually give second chances. What’s happened has already happened, and there’s no foresight as clear as hindsight. That is, unless you are Dan Forester traveling to the future to fight against ferocious aliens.
Chris McKay’s “The Tomorrow War,” released July 2 on Amazon Prime, is an unsatisfying attempt to reconcile competing interests of fatherhood and heroism. It is unclear to viewers the relative importance of these interests as Forester is never given the chance to confront the dilemma. The film calls out societal issues in the real world and gives viewers optimism in its fantastical solutions.
Biology teacher Dan Forester wants to do something special, like saving the world. Without private sector skills, Dan fails to get a laboratory job, but his experience as an Iraq War veteran comes in handy when time travelers from 2051 draft him in a war against White Spikes aliens intent on destroying humanity. It’s the best chance he has to prove that he can do something great.
Outside of his work experience, Dan is also a husband and father. Dan assures his daughter Muri that he will return from the future war, but it is a promise that is almost impossible to keep when fighting against ruthless tentacled beasts unfazed by bullets. His own father, James, fought in the Vietnam War and abandoned his family after coming back a broken, dangerous man — something that Dan will never forget.
Guided by Colonel Forester, his grown daughter, Dan is deployed with other soldiers in a ravaged 2051 Miami to rescue researchers and salvage hard drives and ampules. His fatherly and heroic instincts are at odds when he must decide whether the team, hunted down by White Spikes, should save their fellow soldiers, Norah and Cowan. His hero instinct urges him to save every soul, but as a father, he must consider his own safety and ability to return to Muri in one piece. However, the dilemma is resolved without Dan’s agency when Norah and Cowan sacrifice themselves to hold back the White Spikes. Dan’s commitment as a father is unclear, and his heroic instincts remain unfulfilled.
Dan’s primary mission is to bring back the White Spike toxin to the present. The film paints him as the hero that saves humanity and the devoted father that returns to Muri, but demonstrations of either aspect of Dan’s identity are unsuccessful. Dan’s heroism seems to be limited to his relationship with Colonel Forester. She is the one who synthesizes the toxin and cements herself as the scientist who saves the world. Volcano nerd Martin pinpoints the location of the White Spikes’ ship. Dorian blows up the ship and sacrifices himself in the process. Even James redeems himself by flying the team to Russia and cutting himself to deflect the last White Spike from Dan. It’s unclear whether Dan even plays an essential role in the mission. He saves Muri indirectly by preventing the White Spikes from attacking in the future, but with the timeline altered, Colonel Forester no longer exists. His heroism is at most a thought experiment. Viewers may prefer the father who somehow returns for Colonel Forester, the woman who really stayed with Dan until his last heartbeat.
While a bit contrived, one of the strengths of the film is how it alludes to the urgency of climate change. Nobody knows what’s underneath the ice caps, so it’s impossible to say that it’s not White Spikes. Viewers are left wondering if it really takes an alien invasion for humans to rally behind the problem. At least the solution seems simple enough: warp-speed the toxin like a COVID-19 vaccine. Indeed, a global effort against climate change similar to the development of the vaccine may resolve climate change in the real world.
Whether on a Friday night or during lunch breaks, “The Tomorrow War” is a worthy two-hour watch combining both fantastical and real-world elements. It spins a creative consequence to climate change that will leave you concocting wacky outcomes of increasing temperatures of your own. If nothing else, it’s exciting to watch humans triumph against aliens, even if it requires foresight as clear as hindsight.