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Film / The Tomorrow War

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"Second chances are really hard to come by."

The Tomorrow War is a 2021 sci-fi film directed by Chris McKay. The film stars Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J. K. Simmons and Sam Richardson.

In 2022, the world is shocked when a portal opens up and soldiers from the future step out, saying that humanity is facing annihilation from vicious aliens known as Whitespikes and that they are desperate for reinforcements. The world's governments send troops, only for them to be wiped out. Unwilling to commit more trained soldiers, but needing to support the war, a global draft is instituted. Draftees who manage to survive seven days get to come home. Among the draftees, James Daniel "Dan" Forester, Charlie and their field commander Muri Forester will prove to be humanity's unlikely hope against the Whitespikes.

Originally set for a theatrical release, the film was sold by Paramount to Prime Video for a streaming release on July 2, 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The film's surprise success has led to Amazon greenlighting a sequel with plans for the original cast to return.

Tropes in this film include:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The film was released in 2021; the "present-day" portion begins in December 2022, then skips to one year later.
  • All for Nothing: The toxin that Muri develops to kill all the Whitespikes. The key to defeating them turns out to be finding the alien spacecraft housing them in a glacier back in 2023, where they've been frozen since crash-landing in medieval times, then killing them all there before they have a chance to escape the ship and begin reproducing. This is mostly accomplished by blowing up the ship with C4 rather than using the poison. Muri's mission to capture the female Whitespike and the subsequent destruction of Deepswell-9 that it causes when the Whitespikes retaliate is all done to develop a weapon that is only ever used to kill a few of the aliens, in circumstances where conventional weapons easily could've done the job anyways.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The Whitespikes pull this on the ocean oil rig base in response to the humans capturing and holding one of their females there.
  • Amputation Stops Spread: When Dan sticks the toxin in the female’s arm, it rips it off and successfully stops the disintegration.
  • An Arm and a Leg:
    • Many of the soldiers that survive being sent to the future return to the present with fewer limbs than they started with, presumably after being maimed by the Whitespikes.
    • Combined with It Can Think when the last female Whitespike bites off its own limb to avoid dying from a dose of Muri's toxin.
  • An Asskicking Christmas: The story begins around Christmas time, and is implied to also end around Christmas time about a year later due to Christmas decorations still being up when Dan returns home.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Charlies states that if his gun went off and pierced the plane's hull, everyone would be sucked out of the plane through decompression, but this is an urban legend. But he is right in that it's not safe either way to set off a gun in a pressurized cabin.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: The Whitespikes have to be shot in the neck or abdomen to kill them; hits anywhere else appear to slow them down, but only those spots are lethal.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Dan and his father do this during the final battle when they lose the Whitespike female in their sights.
  • Bad Future:
    • About thirty years into the future, the Earth has been invaded by alien creatures that suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and by the time the survivors have constructed a method of time-traveling, the world's population is below 500,000. Then their only safe haven is overrun and their Jumplink is destroyed, leaving their only hope in Dan and the toxin that he and Muri were able to find at the last second.
    • For Dan, within the next seven years, he will leave his family out of unhappiness with his life and estrange himself from Muri, then die from a car accident.
  • Bioweapon Beast: What the Whitespikes are implied to be, given that they are found dormant in pods on an alien spaceship that landed approximately a thousand years ago, with a different alien species found dead in the ship's apparent cockpit, presumably the pilots who were carrying the Whitespikes as cargo. This would explain their extreme aggression, combat prowess, rapid breeding, and other such traits (including the implied ability to cross oceans). One character speculates that they are a "planet-clearing weapon."
  • Bottomless Magazines: Everyone seems to be firing on full-auto with their rifles and almost never reloads during action sequences. You might expect that they're using futuristic ammunition, but from what we see whenever Charlie fumbles with his magazines, it looks pretty standard.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Dorian's souvenir spike ends up revealing where the aliens were hiding in the present day, and is also used to slash the Whitespike female's throat.
    • Charlie is shown to have trouble loading his weapon before the Jump. Sure enough, it jams up during the final battle. Charlie decides to use metal-cutting circular saw instead, to great effect.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Charlie having a PhD in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at a university becomes handy when Dan needs someone to identify what the sediment on Dorian's claw is from, as it can tell where the Whitespikes landed. Which leads to...
    • Dan's student Martin, who is able to determine the location of the crashed alien ship thanks to his obsession with ancient volcanoes.
    • Dan's estranged father James, who comes back into the story when Dan needs a plane to get to the Russian glacier where the alien crash site is located.
    • Lieutenant Hart, the one who asks on live television for aid in the Tomorrow War and trains the recruits, volunteers to help Dan Forrester find and destroy the White spikes in 2023.
  • Child Soldiers: The majority of the cast from the future are relatively young, implicitly because sending back anyone older might trigger a paradox.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Charlie, face to face with a Whitespike:
    Charlie: Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit...(etcetera)
  • Combat Tentacles: The Whitespikes have two of them on their backs, which they can use to grapple or to fire their namesake spikes to impale people.
  • Cowardly Lion: Charlie, who reveals that he hid for a large chunk of his tour after his first mission. He ends up killing a Whitespike by ramming a circular saw in its face.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Dan's father attempts to heroically sacrifice himself during the final battle against the female Whitespike, but she gets diverted from her lunge towards him and he survives to the end.
  • Death Seeker: Dorian has served three tours, in a combat zone where the average survival rate is 30%. Eventually he reveals to Dan that he has terminal cancer, and would rather go out fighting than die slowly.
  • Determinator: Dan utterly refuses to give up on the idea of making a difference and, ultimately, preventing the war from ever occurring.
  • Disappeared Dad:
    • James Forester, Dan's father, walked out on Dan and his mother during his childhood because he was suffering from PTSD that he experienced following the Vietnam War. This left Dan bitter for years after.
    • During his deployment into the future, it was revealed that Dan's future self had abandoned his family and was killed in a car accident.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The parallels to Vietnam are fairly easy to make here - there's a great war in a faraway place where thousands of lives are lost every week. Humanity is desperate enough for manpower that they have created a draft to force citizens to fight in their war, and punish those who attempt to dodge the draft with imprisonment. As it drags on, society is starting to buckle under the strain. The public is clamoring for a withdrawal from the conflict, and despite the support being provided to the future, it only delays the inevitable.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Dan and the others are able to prevent the Bad Future by killing the Whitespikes before they can awaken, Dan and his father make amends, Dan allows his father to meet Muri, and Dan can rest assured that Muri and the rest of humanity can live a safe tomorrow.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Whitespikes are white, and one of their (several) notable traits is their ability to shoot spikes. Justified, as whilst it's implied that the aliens have some kind of actual name for their species, they don't communicate in human language, and humanity has no interest in finding out something so trivial about such a hostile threat, so they just used a catch-all term based on how they look.
  • Failed Future Forecast: The beginning of the movie depicts Scotland competing against Brazil in the final match of the 2022 World Cup Qatar. However, Scotland did not qualify to compete in the World Cup that year, as it lost 3-1 to Ukraine. Neither did Brazil, which lost 4-2 to Croatia. Instead, the final match was between Argentina and France.
  • A Father to His Men: Dan will, to a fault, protect the people he's in charge of, even when other soldiers such as Dorian would write off the other conscripts as expendable cannon fodder.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When we first see Dan teaching in his classroom, he has a television screen beside him showing a montage about the polar ice caps melting. We later learn that the aliens will get released when the ice they're trapped in melts away.
    • Dan accidentally cuts into a cable buried in his yard and is surprised by how close to the surface it is. In the end, Dan and company cut into the aliens' buried spaceship, which is now only a few dozen feet below the surface due to global warming.
    • Dan's father abandoned his family after returning from Vietnam because he feared that they would suffer from the instability caused by his PTSD, which foreshadows the future Dan has with Colonel Forester - in her timeline, Dan left the family and dies in a car accident.
  • Futile Hand Reach: Dan attempts to reach for Muri as she's falling into a swarm of Whitespikes, but is yanked away by the Jumplink sending him back.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The Whitespikes make a variety of creepy noises, especially their weird, throaty clicking, which is remarked upon by a traumatized veteran as being particularly haunting.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Cowan and Norah, after being badly wounded, hold the line to fight off the Whitespikes long enough for fighter jets to drop bombs.
    • Colonel Forester, hanging from Dan's arm just moments before he's returned to the past by the Jump Link, lets go to prevent him from falling with her.
    • Dorian, wanting to die on his own terms, detonates the explosives that destroy the alien ship in the present, as Lt. Hart and a few other soldiers hold the Whitespikes at bay.
    • Attempted by Dan's father to draw a Whitespike queen away from Dan, but averted.
  • Hive Mind: The aliens seem to possess this, as when one of their females is held captive alone on an oil rig 25 miles offshore, the rest of them promptly show up to rescue her as soon as she manages to roar. Likewise, on the alien ship housing the Whitespikes in the present day, killing a few of them with Muri's toxin suddenly causes the entire colony to awaken.
  • Hollywood Acid: The toxin that Muri develops seems to function more like this than a poison, causing the Whitespikes' body to progressively melt away starting from the point of injection.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Instead of doing careful research and expeditions into the future to discover the best way to take on the Whitespike threat, the world's governments just dump their militaries into the Jumplink and when the Whitespikes kill most of them they enact a worldwide draft, quickly give the draftees the most basic of training and throw them into the future with no proper body armor or equipment aside from automatic rifles.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: The Whitespikes are just vicious animals, with no particular drive beyond reproduction and devouring everything in sight. Since they were probably developed as living planet-killing weapons, the lack of sustainability of this ravenous drive is likely built in.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • The Secretary of Defense, when Dan goes to him with the theory that the Whitespikes are already on Earth in 2022, buried in a glacier in northern Russia. The Secretary argues that they don't know if it will work and the US can't send a mission into Russian territory, but given that the prevailing belief at this point is that the Future War will inevitably be lost and humanity itself is doomed, there is really no excuse at all not to at least give it a chance. At the minimum, one would think the information would be shared with the Russians so that they could act on it, given that the entire world apparently had no trouble uniting to draft its citizens into the Future War.
    • Dan himself and his team when they decide to go to Russia on their own, since the government refuses to act. Rather than sharing their information with other governments or just posting it on the Internet, they go by themselves, simply hoping that the cases of Muri's toxin will be enough to get the job done. Sure enough, they turn out to be under-equipped for what they encounter, getting several of them killed and very nearly allowing the Whitespikes to escape into the wild 30 years ahead of schedule.
  • I'm Melting!: The effect of the toxin created by adult Muri on Whitespikes. It turns them into green glop in a matter of seconds, to gruesome effect.
  • It's a Long Story: Subverted after Dan shows a nervous Charlie how to load his weapon properly while the countdown for the Jump Link runs down:
    Charlie: How do you know how to do all of this stuff, man? How are you so calm?
    Dan: Long story.
    Charlie: What, are you, like, ex-military?
    Dan: (sheepishly) Yeah. Yeah. Kind of a short story, I guess.
  • Just Before the End: Mankind has been reduced to a population of 500,000 by the time Dan heads into the future, and it's very clear that humanity is a hairsbreadth away from extinction. Future!Muri reveals that the forces from the future don't even have the ability to mass-produce the toxin that can kill the Whitespikes, so their plan is to send the toxin back to the present and mass-produce it so that the aliens can be killed before they wipe out mankind.
  • Leitmotif: The appearance of Whitespikes is usually marked by some low and threatening notes.
  • Lowered Recruiting Standards: During training, Charlie remarks to Dan that there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason as to who's drafted and that his group includes those who are out of shape and elderly. As the pair deduce later, the "standards" seem to be that draftees won't cause a Grandfather paradox with little consideration beyond that.
  • Made of Iron: As a whole, Whitespikes can take an absurd amount of damage, even if you attack their most vulnerable locations. The last remaining female has to be subjected to a Rasputinian Death to permanently kill her.
  • Mauve Shirt: Some of the other civilians in the first mission are this, being killed by the end of it.
  • Mildly Military: Because the Future War is such a meat grinder, draftees are given only the most rudimentary training and limited equipment. Those who manage to survive seven days get to come home.
  • Militaries Are Useless: The head of the Department of Defense refuses to do anything when Dan and mpany try to explain to him that they know a way they could prevent the Bad Future, citing that he doesn't want to waste money and time on something they're not sure about, forcing them to do it themselves. At the end, in a news interview, he claims credit for the team's success, saying that he gave it the go immediately, and he would do it again if he had to.
  • Mood Whiplash: The movie is played mostly seriously, except for Charlie, Martin, and some of the civilians. Charlie is a Nervous Wreck whose attitude compared to the other recruits is played for comedy, Martin is a kid in Dan's class who seems to be the only upbeat one after recruitment starts, and the civilians are meant to be Mauve Shirts.
  • More Deadly Than the Male: The female Whitespike is larger, stronger, more aggressive, more durable, and more resistant to toxins than the males. It's implied that they might be capable of asexual reproduction (not that the cast is going to take that chance).
  • Never Shall The Selves Meet: It's implied but not outright confirmed that draftees are selected based on whether or not they lived long enough to actually experience the war. Likewise, only those young enough to not have been born yet get sent back.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: The Jumplink in the future is the only one of its kind. It's implied they could build more, were it not for the severe lack of resources.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Used to great effect. The audience is does not see a Whitespike for a long time, and even then we see them from enough distance that all we know for a while is that they are white, roughly the size of a horse, and have way more appendages than they should. The only description we are given of Whitespikes beforehand is that they're so frightening that conscripts would refuse to face them if they knew what the monsters looked like. Critics and audiences of the film generally agreed with that assessment.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Used for a joke when somebody asks the obvious question, "Why not just take the evidence of the alien ship to the United Nations?"... Because the UN would do nothing but argue over it for decades while the world burned around them.
  • Papa Wolf: What Dan becomes once it is revealed that his daughter is fighting in the Future War, and a large part of the second half of the film revolves around him trying to prevent the war from taking place so that Muri will not have to experience the war in the first place. With parents travelling forward and children travelling back, many other time travelers are likely to meet their families in the other timeline.
  • Plot Armor: Our hero Dan lands in Soft Water at the beginning of the film and is one of only a few survivors of his drafted group.
  • Precursors: Turns out, aliens accidentally crash-landed on Earth's glacier in 946 AD, during the Early Middle Ages.
  • Pregnant Badass: The queen Dan encounters in the past has a visibly swollen, bright red belly, indicating the threat it poses if it is allowed to escape.
  • Put on a Bus: After the first mission, Charlie and Dorian are redeployed elsewhere so that the movie can focus on Dan catching up with adult Muri, though they come back once the week ends.
  • Rag Tag Band Of Misfits: Draftees are a motley collection from all walks of life, forced to fight because attempting to flee will result in a family member being drafted instead.
  • Rasputinian Death: Due to her insane durability, the final surviving Whitespike is, in order, shot to hell, has her arm cut off (of her own volition to avoid being poisoned), stabbed through both eyes, hacked up several times with both a knife and another Whitespike's severed claw, before finally having the last remaining poison shoved down her throat, after which she falls quite a distance and is vaporized by the final impact.
  • San Dimas Time: In a brief Info Dump, it's explained that the time jump technology establishes a semi-stable connection between itself in the present and a point thirty years into the past, which cannot be changed. Humans and materials can only go back and forth between the two points, and the points move forward in time at the same rate, so no one can jump to some time before the Whitespikes arrived to preemptively stop the war. Given limited resources, the one device they have is all they can build, and they dare not mess with it for fear of never being able to repair it.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: A thousand or so conscripts sent to the future die each week, which is made out to be a huge number that causes complete societal collapse rather than the globally insignificant rounding error it actually is. Mosquitoes are responsible for about fifteen times as many casualties in the present timeline, and high blood sugar kills more than seventy times as many people. A person's chances of being sent to the future to be killed by a Whitespike are barely over twice the chance of being killed by a snail.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Muri has Dan take the perfected Whitespike toxin back into the past, where it can be mass-produced and wipe out the threat before it ever happens. Dan ends up taking this a step further and wiping out the Whitespikes before they can even crawl out of their ship.
  • Shellshocked Veteran:
    • Emmy Forester runs a support group for veterans of the Future War suffering from PTSD, which notably includes many who lost limbs after being attacked by Whitespikes. One of them can barely talk about the experience without breaking down.
    • Dan's father, James Forester, was a Vietnam war veteran who suffered from this, which led to him distancing himself from his family and straining his relationship with his son.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Charlie is redeployed elsewhere so that the second act of the movie can focus more seriously on Dan and Muri, though he comes back for the third act as comic relief once again.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Soft Water: Dan and several fellow conscripts fall into a recreational swimming pool from the height of about 100 stories above it and simply splash in like they just jumped off the diving board. In reality, just hitting the water would have been fatal, to say nothing of the concrete floor only a few feet below the surface.
  • Space Whale Aesop: Don't allow climate change to melt the ice caps, or it will result in humanity being destroyed by killer aliens from under the ice.
  • Spiritual Successor: To the similarly titled 2014 sci-fi military action film Edge of Tomorrow, which features a New Meat protagonist and his comrades being sent into the meat-grinder of a losing war of humanity versus a Horde of Alien Locusts species of extraterrestrial invaders sporting Combat Tentacles and a Hive Mind and bent on the extermination of life on Earth. The initial battle also involves getting dropped into combat into a beach setting from a great height (though in a controlled manner rather than teleportation above the ground) before the protagonist gradually develops their combat skills at the hands of a female military authority figure, who bonds with the lead protagonist, and then dies in battle before the protagonist is able to destroy a critical target that ends the invasion in its tracks.
  • Stealth Pun: Who is the one sent into the past to win the hearts and minds of the people of 2022? Lieutenant Hart.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: As the Whitespikes swarm the ocean compound, Dan and a wounded Muri have plenty of time to talk.
  • Teleporter Accident: The jump technology dumps travellers between five to ten feet off the ground. An error occurs during Dan's jump and this distance is increased to several hundred feet, killing all but a lucky few who happened to land on a nearby skyscraper with a rooftop swimming pool.
  • Unfinished, Untested, Used Anyway: The Jumplink was being tested on rats before the military decided they had to risk using it on humans to have any chance of winning.
  • The Vietnam Vet: Dan's father, James Forester, fought in Vietnam, which affected his relationship with his family when he returned.
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?:
    • Dan's father left Dan and his mother.
    • In the future, Dan will also leave his family and break off contact with Muri, though it's implied this future will no longer come to pass with the aliens dead.
  • You Are Already Dead: Exaggerated with the various conscripts — not only are they practically guaranteed to die due to the power and ferocity of the Whitespikes, but everyone sent into the future is revealed to have died before the aliens arrived in the original timeline, so that no temporal paradoxes are caused if they die.
  • You Do NOT Want To Know: The future soldiers refuse to tell the present-day recruits what the Whitespikes look like, reasoning that how they look will just demoralize them, though their reaction indicates they wouldn't be motivated either way.
  • Zerg Rush: The only tactic of the Whitespikes. Given their numbers, speed, and combat ability, it's plenty effective — everything the humans throw at them in the battles we see only slows them down a little bit from whatever target they're swarming at or chasing after.