Movies

The Tomorrow War Is a Tortured Global Warming Metaphor Disguised as a Dull Action Movie

Another lifeless pseudo-blockbuster goes straight to streaming.

|

Murderous alien monsters might be taking over the world and literally eating all but a few hundred thousand sad souls, but the real threat, it turns out, is global warming. That's the gist of The Tomorrow War, a ho-hum, straight-to-streaming summer blockbuster that wants to be the next Terminator 2, but gets bogged down by metaphor service and a by-the-numbers screenplay that can't deliver on its central promise.

Like Terminator 2, The Tomorrow War is a time-travel story about a hero sent from one year to another in order to stop a global threat. The twist this time around is that The Tomorrow War is about a hero sent forward in time from the present, rather than backward from a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Three decades from now, it turns out, humans are fighting a losing war against a horde of alien monsters known as White Spikes, named for the bone-like projectiles they shoot from their limbs. The Spikes don't appear to be particularly intelligent: They don't use tools, and until late in the film, it's not even clear how they arrived on the planet. But they are winning the battle against humanity, and projections show that the species has precious little time to live. So in order to recruit more fighters to keep the war effort going, the humans of the future look to the past, drafting mostly inexperienced present-day folks to fight and die against the spikes.

It's Terminator 2 in reverse, with a little bit of Independence Day's wisecracking ordinary-heroes shtick thrown in for good measure: Our protagonist this time is Dan Forester, played by Chris Pratt—the Goofy Chris—and he's both an ex-soldier turned high school science teacher, and the quintessential Good Dad. You can tell he's a good dad because he does cute science stuff with his daughter and wears a soft-looking shawl-collar sweater in a comfortably appointed middle-class home. Look! All the clothing catalog–ready signifiers of middle-class decency, conveniently shoveled into the first 15 minutes of the script. (There's also a grumpy, government-skeptical father figure played by J.K. Simmons, who, as is often the case, is the best thing about the movie. Sadly, he's also barely in it.)

Fine, sure, let's get on with it: The family connection stuff is generically heartwarming, but no better; the tug of lineage feels entirely pro forma, a vehicle for some perfunctory emotional connection to the futuristic action scenes that inevitably proceed. This is the bit that's supposed to ground viewers in something relatable before all the hectic alien combat that happens later on, but it's handled in a rote and clunky manner that, if anything, made me care less.

Inevitably, Forester meets his now-adult daughter in the alien-wrecked future to which he travels. She's grown up to be a researcher working on a weapon that might help humanity win the war—and as it turns out, Papa Forester needs to deliver it back to the past. So the daddy-daughter duo fight aliens, bond while doing some Plot-Relevant Science Stuff in an ocean-bound lab, and eventually formulate a vial-shaped MacGuffin that Forester has to take home to the past.

It's at this point that you slowly begin to realize the harsh and terrible truth about what's truly going on: This movie, which has already run for an hour and 40 minutes, still has about 40 minutes to go.

The action scenes are loud and frantic but not much else. There's a rudimentary progression to the set pieces—this time there are even more monsters!—but little in the way of real suspense. And while there are some potentially thorny moral and logical questions here about balancing the demands of probable future humans with those very much presently alive, the production mostly comes across as a series of clumsy box-checking exercises designed to advance to the big reveal at the end…which is less of a shocking story development and more of a hit-you-on-the-head metaphor about global warming.

There's no way to discuss that metaphor without venturing into spoiler territory, so twist-a-phobes, consider yourselves warned.

You see, the aliens aren't intelligent because they didn't fly themselves to the Earth. Instead, they were (probably) planet-clearing bioweapons being transported as cargo on a ship that crashed in the Russian tundra hundreds of years ago. They were trapped in the ice—that is, until climate change thawed a glacier and set them free. Forester (did you catch the name? Forest…get it?), of course, discovers this with the help of a volcano-obsessed kid in his science class, because, you know, kids! Science! It's all so obvious if you're paying attention.

You see, in the end, it's all about saving the children, and the way to save the children is for today's adults to act now, before it's too late, because our future is so precious and blah blah blah. The deadly monsters were unleashed by our inattention to the science, and if only we'd…yawwwwwwwwn. Al Gore's filmed PowerPoint lecture held my attention better than this. And if nothing else, An Inconvenient Truth was only 96 minutes long.

I have no problem with political messages and metaphors in movies, even when I disagree with those messages. And for what it's worth, I very much agree with my colleague Ron Bailey that climate change is real and could pose significant challenges for human society.

But to be effective as a sociopolitical metaphor, a movie like The Tomorrow War also needs to be modestly entertaining. It needs to find a novel way to make its boogeyman seem more real, more worrisome, more threatening. It needs to make you care. (One of the many reasons Terminator 2 is a classic is that it excelled at this.) 

Instead, The Tomorrow War's stolidly by-the-numbers narrative and punishingly generic cast of characters have the opposite effect: It left me uninterested and increasingly bored. By the time the overlong third act rolled around, I just wanted the movie to be over. There's probably a lesson there for both Hollywood blockbusters and climate change activists, but I can't imagine anyone will learn it.

NEXT: The U.S. Quietly Departs Its Largest Military Base in Afghanistan

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Hard pass. Message movies usually suck. because the point is the message, and not art or entertainment

    1. I think that Hollywood think that I must be preached to at every opportunity and, if I am good, entertained a little as well. I need to understand why global warming is my fault and that only big government can stop it, even if it destroys my life. All gay problems are my fault as well, and don’t even mention trans people. All people of color are good, and all white Americans, especially those from rural working class backgrounds are fat and bad.
      Thank goodness for VPN. No money from me.

      1. Making money online more than 15OOO$ just by doing simple work from home. I have received $18376 last month. Its an easy and simple job to do and its FD earnings are much better than regular office job and even a little child can do this and earns money. Everybody must try this job by just use the info
        on this page…..VISIT HERE

        1. Everybody can earn 500 dollars Daily… Yes! you can earn more than you think by working online from home. I have been doing this job for like a few weeks and my last week payment was exactly 25370 dollars. COPY This Website OPEN HERE………… READ MORE

          1. Everybody can earn 500 dollars Daily… Yes! you can earn more than you think by working online from home. I have been doing this job for like a few weeks and my last week payment was exactly 25370 dollars.

            COPY This Website OPEN HERE………… READ MORE

    2. Haven’t seen a good one since Star Trek 4. Even then, the space-whale Aesop was explicitly absurd and even the characters said it was a crazy idea based on clear fantastic nonsense. It worked because the bulk was the familiar future characters trying to fit into 20th century San Francisco. While the environmental message was core to the story, it wasn’t preachy.

    3. It wasn’t really a message movie. I thought it well done, although it could have been cut a bit tighter. It was entertaining.

      1. Yeah this seems like click bait. The part about the ice melting in the future was literally about 2 seconds of the movie.

  2. Propagandists don’t want people to have fun. Why would they make an entertaining movie?

    1. “Why would they make an entertaining movie?”

      That’s the way to draw an audience. Especially if there are no A list celebrities involved in the project, as it seems is the case here.

      1. You are either willfully blind, naive, or just completely devoid of any fun whatsoever.

      2. Chris Pratt is at the top of the A list.

        1. A TV A list at best. Sounds like a prat to me.

  3. Wow.

    When you said:
    The Spikes don’t appear to be particularly intelligent: They don’t use tools, and until late in the film, it’s not even clear how they arrived on the planet.

    I immediately assumed:
    You see, the aliens aren’t intelligent because they didn’t fly themselves to the Earth. Instead, they were (probably) planet-clearing bioweapons being transported as cargo on a ship that crashed in the Russian tundra hundreds of years ago.

    This sounds worse than all the ‘A Quiet Place’ clones where the monsters are attracted to sound and nobody can figure out how to put a bunch of noisemakers in the middle of a minefield.

    1. This sounds worse than all the ‘A Quiet Place’ clones where the monsters are attracted to sound and nobody can figure out how to put a bunch of noisemakers in the middle of a minefield.

      That’s the kind of inside-the-box thinking that gets people fired.

    2. I watched it last night.
      The writer may use tools, but he seems to have even less intelligence than the thoughtless space monsters.
      Might’ve been drunk when he wrote it.
      There is an idea of a movie there, but it’s mostly just one inexplicable occurrence after another. The actors certainly performed like they had no idea what the hell was going on.

      It honestly didn’t even deliver the underlying global climate change warming message coherently at all.
      A message it could’ve delivered, and actually set up with the beginning, would be anti totalitarian, anti sacrifice for vague causes with no discernable goals, and all about globalist deception.
      This movie did not go that route.
      All in all, it was a fairly on point demonstration of post modern progressivism.
      A reviewer with talent and honesty could’ve explored that aspect.

  4. So…why not tell people in the even further past about the buried aliens in the tundra, and then they can drop some nukes on em.

    Well because we live in a world where hollywood writes aliens that can survive dropping in on meteors and are impervious to everything except…a deaf girl’s transistor radio. Yeah.

    1. It’s like you’re reading my mind!

      1. Or the common cold….

        1. That was a good twist when it was written 123 year ago.
          I expect something other than a microbus ex machina these days

    2. That’s only one among many, many questions begged.

    3. Exactly… The main fail of the movie is not the lame moral but the galaxy-sized plot hole (that also renders the moral irrelevant).

  5. So the message this movie is delivering is clearly: “Nuke all the glaciers before things get out of hand.”

    1. The Washington Post actually ran a story a few years ago (and not in the April 1st edition) about building a string of nuclear power plants in Antarctica to pump ocean water back to the middle of the continent to fight the rising sea levels by refreezing the glaciers.

      Rather than just building sea walls a foot or so higher in coastal cities over the next hundred years or so.

      1. And actually, we have a system that pumps ocean water back to the middle of the continent to refreeze. It’s called “the weather.”

      2. Because hot water from a nuclear reactor freezes so easily.

        1. Oh, honey…. *facepalm*

  6. If you believe in CAGW what are you personally doing to eliminate your net carbon emissions?

  7. “The Ministry of the Future,” Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest hard science fiction novel is an interesting take on climate change and how society will respond. Fans of the Antarctic, like me, will find the book especially rewarding.

  8. The biggest unanswered question for me is why you would fly an interstellar ship anywhere near a planet-sized gravity well that wasn’t it’s final destination in the first place. This could have all been prevented by a more logical flight plan.

  9. On a similar topic, I read the Foundation series of books when I was a kid, and now that they’re making a streaming series of it, I dread it. Not because I liked the books so much–because I didn’t. I dread it because it seems to me that the series is likely to make a hero of elitists directing society in order to save us all from ourselves, much like the progressive pretentions we’re all so familiar with emanating from Silicon Valley and the Democratic party.

    “The premise of the stories is that, in the waning days of a future Galactic Empire, the mathematician Hari Seldon spends his life developing a theory of psychohistory, a new and effective mathematical sociology. Using statistical laws of mass action, it can predict the future of large populations . . . . Although the inertia of the Empire’s fall is too great to stop, Seldon devises a plan by which “the onrushing mass of events must be deflected just a little” to eventually limit this interregnum to just one thousand years. To implement his plan, Seldon creates the Foundations—two groups of scientists and engineers settled at opposite ends of the galaxy—to preserve the spirit of science and civilization, and thus become the cornerstones of the new galactic empire.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundation_series

    Yes, I remember the part about how the plans come to naught, and how the future and its systems become unpredictable with conscious self-awareness, etc. But how likely is a big budget production from Apple be to emphasize the futility of a bunch of elite scientists and engineers trying to save civilization and society from self-destruction? I want it to be better than GoT and better than its source material, but it’s gonna suck, right? The chances that it doesn’t suck in terms of its message, from a libertarian capitalist perspective, must be pretty close to zero.

    I hope I’m wrong.

    1. I read those books when I was a kid as well, and every time I think back to them I think of Silicon Valley.

    2. Yeah the interesting thing is, if I recall correctly, it takes awhile before Seldon’s plan goes off the rails. And it isn’t Self Awareness that ultimately does him in, but a random genetic mutation that creates The Mule, a human capable of controlling the emotions of humans. Ultimately The Mule is done in by Even Toppier Top Men, the Second Foundation, who can also control your thoughts.

      So the entire Theme of the foundation series is truly Top Men saving us from savagery- whether it is fallen civilization, evil despots, or random chaos. And the ultimate way they win is by harnessing the power to take free will away from us.

      I never liked the series when I was young, and it was only as an adult reflecting on these themes that I realized how actually alien and terrifying it was. But if you look at many of Asimov’s stories, it is full of the same tropes.

      1. Yeah, his view was all about our betters being the solution, and the stupidity of average people being the problem.

        There is no Adam Smith in his thinking far as I can tell, and if he didn’t believe in the existence of the God of Abraham or the necessity of a supernatural God to save us, he certainly seemed to believe that someone like that was necessary.

        Libertarian capitalism seems to be the stupid savagery in his epic, and science and central planning seem to be our savior.

      2. Ah, but then thirty years after Second Foundation we got Foundation’s Edge, where Asimov points out that the Toppier Top Men actually failed miserably.

        After all, at the end of Second Foundation, the leaders of the First Foundation a) know that Seldon’s Plan assumed the existence of the Second Foundation, and b) think the Second has been destroyed. So when the next Hari Seldon appearance says they’re on track, they know that proves the Second Foundation was not destroyed, and they accordingly resume development of mentalic technology themselves.

        And by the end of Foundation and Earth, the alien and terrifying nature of the puppeteer who has been manipulating humanity for millennia is made absolutely explicit.

    3. Asimov’s speculation about psychohistory has not aged well. Chaos Theory has rendered the application of mathematics to predict specific events over lifetimes as impossible because the Knowledge Problem is applicable to all chaotic systems, not merely economics.

      1. I read the Foundation series in college and as a physics major thought it was great..later as I started to take economics classes and read Hayek I realized how Asimov was just another central planner who didn’t understand human actions. To be fair he was a Russian Jew and for some reason there was a very strong belief in central planning and elites among Russian Jewish Scientists/engineers…but in the end with his last Foundation book he seems to have realized he was wrong…

        Apple destroyed the Apollo program with “For all Mankind” which was just shit..total woke shit.

    4. No. You’ll be right. The investors in these projects aren’t fans of Asimov or the genre or moviemaking.

      They just want to milk a good thing, add a ton of special effects, inject woke politics, collect money.

      I would not be surprised if the protagonist winds up being a disabled black lesbian with an Asian parent, just so they can check boxes.

  10. The Tomorrow War Is a Tortured Global Warming Metaphor Disguised as a Dull Action Movie

    So a meta-metaphor for the Biden administration.

  11. Yes, climate change is real. The climate is changing all the time, regardless of the presence or absence of humans.

    *barf*

    1. It changes because earth has an atmosphere. No atmosphere, say goodbye to climate. One of my favorite atmospheres is that of Titan,the largest moon of Saturn and subject of an early novel of Kurt Vonnegut. Titanians can’t have a water cycle so distant from the sun, but they do have a methane cycle. Methane is the gas that gives farts their explosiveness. There is frozen methane, liquid methane and vaporous methane. Methane rain, methane clouds and rivers of methane.

      1. Fun fact: You could fly on Titan just by tying wings to your arms, because the atmosphere is thick and gravity is low (14% of Earth’s). And if the wings fall off, terminal velocity is low enough that you wouldn’t be harmed.

        Except by the 290 degrees below 0 temperatures of course.

        1. And the fact that the atmosphere is natural gas and you require oxygen to live trying to keep the methane out of any living structure will be interesting task.

  12. syfy is running a Twilight Zone marathon starting tonite

    1. Finally! Something worth watching.

    1. HO2 baby!

  13. You know who else used high school level science to fight a numerous but not technologically advanced or particularly bright enemy to deal with an apocalypse?

  14. Lifeasible
    https://www.lifeasible.com/
    Agrobacterium can transfer a DNA segment from bacterial tumor-inducing (Ti) plasmid or root-inducing (Ri) to causes crown-gall

  15. This movie was horribly bad, like real bad. It was a Michael Bay meets Rambo type flick, super cheese balls. The guns in the movie have endless magic rounds like I have never seen in a movie. It was embarrassing. Having said all that, had this been a female lead, I do wonder if the Reason staff would have called it a ‘real women’s empowerment’ blockbuster.

  16. And, like all movies of this type, you’re apparently limited to fighting the monsters with M4 carbines. No A-10s, no artillery, no Abrams, no napalm.

    1. Did you actually watch it? They bombed Miami with HE to kill the infestation. Most of the evac was done with gunships and 50cal MGs. I can’t see shoulder-fired ord taking out many when the attacks were swarms. Trading one life for a handful of vermin doesn’t work when there are 500k humans left scattered across the world.

      We could safely assume the future soldiers would exhaust all high tech weapons way before this point and the plants and machinery would be overrun as well. They are fighting ‘bees’, implied that they reproduce weekly.

  17. A quiet place lost me when I couldn’t figure out how the aliens weren’t systematically eliminated using helicopters and IR imagine.

    We can extinguish Buffalo from North America with single shot rifles but we can’t eliminate an invasive species with mini guns?

    Yawn.

    1. We can’t extinguish cockroaches, killer bees, murder hornets, gypsy moths, zebra/quagga mussels… We aren’t as all-powerful as you imply.

  18. I have not seen this, but have watched the trailer, it seems to fall into the current trends where the main character is a white male, while almost every one else around him is minority or female that are generally wittier, smarter, better, tougher than any secondary white male characters. Same pattern in NCIS, The Rookie, Bull to name a few.
    Its almost like they start with a white male lead, and follow up with the diversity hires, but to compensate for them not having the lead, they are made superior to any other white males.

    1. Well Cliff Booth did kick Bruce Lee’s ass

      1. Yes, and while Bruce Lee is dead, John Derbyshire is still kicking! Take that!

        https://johnderbyshire.com/FamilyHistoryJD/Photographs/06_1972-1982/1972-06-00.html

  19. I hate preachy Hollywood movies and series as much as the rest of everyone, but this was not a diatribe at the forefront of the movie.

    They talk about the aliens in some remote Russian wilderness, locate it via volcanic residue, and ask determine how long for that glacier to melt to expose them. That’s it. The residue to glacier melt could be missed in a 1:30 refrigerator run during a 2 1/2 hour movie.

    No mention of Climate Change, no Greta ‘how dare you’ expositional lines, no character brought up the line of thought that if the glacier didn’t melt we’d all be (temporarily) safe.

    This whole article and the comments are overblown–fake news of the highest order.

    1. Ditto. No idea where this review came from. Enough details that surely the reviewer saw the movie, but it still doesn’t match the movie I saw.

      1. If I start watching a show and catch myself surfing the web/reading news/emails/tweets/busy being a dad to the kids, it’s hard to pay attention to a movie/show to form anything more than a gut-level opinion. Perhaps that is how this review was formed.

    2. Exactly. Fake news from the writer that was a mating call for all the sheep to come post about how much they hate preachy movies. Only this wasn’t a preachy movie at all. Maybe they should try watching it.

  20. “Another lifeless pseudo-blockbuster goes straight to streaming.”

    “Steaming” might be a more appropriate word, as in “steaming pile” . . .

  21. For what it’s worth, the climate change angle wasn’t actually a particularly relevant angle in the movie and frankly this film doesn’t beat you over the head with it compared to other films that use it as a plot device. At this point some vague relation to climate change is in just about all lazy science fiction, and this film is no different.

    It’s still not worth watching, of course, but that’s mostly because the film could have been trimmed down by about 30-45 minutes and would have lost nothing except some absurd and lackluster action scenes. The film has two endings, which is just bad for pacing.

    That, and the premise of stealing people from the past to a fight a war in the future is inherently sort of retarded. So is the notion that mindless animal aliens eat all of humanity. If an idiot science teacher and some regular joes could figure out how the aliens got to earth with the help of some kid, it’s absurd no one else could have.

    I’ll also admit that I mistook Yvonne Strzechowski for Julia Stiles for, like, half the film.

  22. Since hitting middle age I don’t really like action movies anymore. Changing values? Or lowering T?

    1. I still like them, I just want them to be more than action. I thought the first John Wick was most excellent but the sequels were just there to be sequels.

  23. Disagree. The only mention of climate change was that it melted the glacier to free the aliens. The movie was NOT about climage change. That was just the excuse to get some aliens here in the future and the present.

    It wasn’t the greatest movie, and like all time travel movies, enough plot holes to drive a Mack truck through. But it most certainly was not a “global warming metaphor”.

  24. So Sunderman and Bailey have how many hard science degrees or spent time in the laboratory? Seriously…Tom Massie is a skeptic and he has better credentials and math skills than most of the “biology/geology” climate “scientists..come on man….even Corn Pop doesn’t buy the chicken littles…

  25. Hold on… this guy actually thought Terminator 2 was a good movie? LOL

    1. Seriously, I have no idea why people like that turdburger so much, especially with the overwhelmingly annoying Edward Furlong and his young-teen angst at the forefront.

  26. I’m going to have to disagree. I don’t see the “tortured global warming metaphor”. Maybe when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. What I saw was a movie where the individual matters a lot. (At least four separate times in the film it all came down to the right person being there at the right time.)
    I actually liked the fact that the enemy wasn’t some thinly guised stand-in for something current. It was actual aliens whose motives for what they did weren’t obvious. I also like the plot element that the hero chose to be a hero when the situation was thrust on him. It makes him more believable to me than those larger-than-life always-ready heroes of some movies.

  27. Reason is a tortured progressive magazine disguised as a moderate libertarian publication.

Please to post comments