Jesus told us to not worry about tomorrow, for “tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”
But sometimes, tomorrow’s anxieties invade today. And those anxieties can be pretty hard to ignore.
Take, for instance, one lazy evening in the not-too-distant future. Dan Forester, a former special-ops soldier and current high school biology teacher, had just settled down to watch a World Cup soccer match with his daughter, Muri, when—in what you’d think would be a first for World Cup competition—soldiers from the future zapped onto the field and stopped play.
They’ve come from the year 2051, they say, a time when absolutely no one cares about World Cup matches. Alien invasions have a way of shifting one’s priorities, and aliens have invaded in a big way. In fact, humanity itself—fighting for its life—is hanging by a thread. The last man, woman or child will be killed and eaten in, oh, 11 months or so. Tops. Unless, that is, the war effort gets a transfusion of new soldiers from the past.
That’s a pretty tall order, but humanity steps up to the challenge. Waves of soldiers from the past (but Dan’s present) are sent back to the future—and summarily mowed down. The planet unites to create a global draft, but that doesn’t go much better. A standard tour of duty lasts for seven days—and just 30% of those who spend a week in the field ever come back.
Those are the odds that Dan faces when his number comes up. He has just a three-in-10 chance of making it back to see his wife and daughter again. He flirts with making a run for it. But in the end he accepts his commission and agrees to fight—and fight desperately for humankind’s future.
But Dan and his new comrades don’t have much time, no matter how you slice it. A week of basic training is cut short when leaders learn that a critical scientific base is under attack. The link to the future is destabilizing, and they’ll have to make the jump now—whether they’re ready or not.
Dan’s team is told to expect a drop to the ground of around five feet, maybe 10, once they hit the future. Instead, Dan and his compatriots materialize hundreds of feet above the burning rubble of Miami. And they’re all falling.
Fight aliens? Why, their first real fight is against gravity itself.
Tomorrow will be anxious for itself. But tomorrow came sooner than everyone expected.
Saving the world equals good, right? And we see lots of people risking, literally, everything to save that world. It’s not easy for anyone to look into the future’s gaping maw of doom and declare that there’s hope yet to be found in its inky depths. And many, indeed, give up—saying that nothing matters. But Dan and the movie’s other heroes never give up. And that’s a pretty good lesson.
But setting aside the movie’s global scope and apocalyptic stakes, The Tomorrow War is as much about family as anything.
When we first meet Dan, he’s a conscientious husband and father—but a bit dissatisfied with his career. The time jump gives Dan a chance to learn a little bit about his future self, and he learns how that dissatisfaction led to some pretty bad mistakes, that he wasn’t always the husband or father that he should’ve been. Armageddon, oddly, gives him a second chance to do what’s right—not just on a global scale, but on a personal one, too. He discovers that the most important things in his life weren’t the job he coveted or the success he deserved, but his wife and daughter.
He confesses to someone that he’s not so much worried about saving the planet from aliens but protecting the future of his daughter. “If I have to save the world to save her,” he says, “I’m … gonna do it.”
He’s also given a chance to patch things up with his own estranged father, too.
You’d think that facing genocidal aliens would warrant a prayer or two. But unless you want to count the movie’s premise that Earth is not unique in holding intelligent life, you’ll find no real signs of faith or religion here. The only real reference we’re given to spirituality at all is that the White Spikes, as the aliens are known, rest every seventh day. Naturally, humans call it their “Sabbath.”
Someone jokingly wishes that Stevie Nicks would appear out of nowhere with a jar of baby oil. We hear a joke about the size of someone’s privates.
The aliens are called White Spikes for painfully literal reasons. They have two tentacles to go along with their four fearsome limbs and mouth full of kitchen-knife-sized teeth. And those tentacles? They shoot spikes. The aliens attack basically anything that moves. As an officer tells Dan, “We are food. And they are hungry.”
We’re told that by the time Dan hits the future, just 500,000 humans are left on the planet—and we see that count go down plenty. White Spikes kill people using their projectiles (sometimes going in one area of the body then protruding from another), their teeth (sometimes literally tearing people apart or swallowing parts of bodies whole) or just by throwing poor people around. The aliens leap on helicopters, pulling them down to crash in lethal fireballs; they run into military vehicles like bowling balls into pins—ripping open doors to pull the helpless soldiers out. And they don’t discriminate in what they eat: From a distance, we see them chase and attack a herd of horses. Sometimes, the aliens kill people and leave them hanging, apparently to devour later.
People die in other ways, too. Explosions take out many. The unexpected fall I mentioned in the introduction kills plenty more. (We see some bodies bounce off of still-standing buildings on the way down, and mangled corpses litter the ground.) Yes, 2051 is desperate indeed. Many of the soldiers who do return from their future tour of duty come back missing limbs and suffering incredibly torturous mental scars—so much so that Dan’s wife (who’s a PTSD counselor) says some can barely speak.
But the White Spikes are not invulnerable, and their deaths can be—if you can believe it—even more grotesque. Some are perforated by hundreds of bullets, their skulls slowly being pummeled away by the onslaught. Some seem to melt (via a special-but-apparently-rare toxin), their skin and muscles sloughing away from the skeleton like melted Jell-O. One falls off a cliff and seems to explode on the rocks below.
We also learn that the civilians sent into the future are, technically, already dead by 2051 (and thusly recruited as to not disturb the time-space continuum, it’s assumed). We also learn how some of those people died.
One f-word and at least 50 more s-words—the majority of which are uttered in less than a minute by one character running from a White Spike. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—” and “p-ss.” God’s name is paired with “d–n” three times, and Jesus’ name is abused twice.
After a tour, someone drinks heavily in a bar. Another character drinks during a critical procedure. We see a beer bottle in the background of a scene or two.
During the soccer match, Muri talks to her dad about tuberculosis, and how the germs are found in the dirt “with worms and poop.” We hear about a character’s separation and divorce. There’s some discussion about using time travel as a way to profitably bet on the Miami Dolphins.
The Tomorrow War is about aliens. It’s about family. But maybe it’s mostly about hope.
That’s something that seems in short supply, even in a world pretty much devoid of tentacled, flesh-eating monsters. Sometimes we can look at culture and wonder how everything went so wrong. And then, of course, we think of what the Bible says, and we remember.
Christians have hope, of course, that no matter what happens, everything will eventually be OK. God is in control, we say—but sometimes even if we know this to be true, it can be difficult for us to feel that truth. We live in a world of violence and viruses, of anger and pain and grief. Many characters in the movie give up in the face of their own story’s difficulties. And sometimes, we can feel like giving up, too.
It’s why I appreciate the simple morality in play in The Tomorrow War—the sharp call to do what’s right, and to do what we must, in trying times.
One character tells Dan to not worry about pulling other people to safety: They’ll die anyway. Dan’s not having it. “We’re here to save people,” he says. “We have to try.” He’s told there’s no reason to fight; the war’s termination is terminal. Dan, and others, refuse to back off. They embrace Ecclesiastes 9:4: “He who is joined with all the living has hope …”
The Tomorrow War has other issues as well as hope. The story races forward at such a breathless pace that sometimes it forgets to make sense of itself. The carnage here can push the PG-13 threshold, as can the language. This is a frenetic, bloody mess in some ways.
But in that mess, you have moments of moral clarity about what is worth valuing in the world—and what is worth fighting for. And that makes The Tomorrow War strangely resonant today.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.