Tomorrow, When the War Began (2012)

28 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

To tell the truth, the idea has always fascinated me. Imagine being a teenager, and you and your high-school friends are the last line of defense against an army of soldiers who invade your home. It’s a great characteristic of the term “unlikely heroes” in that the heroes are all teenagers with hardly any experience in military tactics. 1984’s “Red Dawn” is a classic example of that idea—in that film, a high school football team became America’s guerilla force when foreign armies invaded.

But now it’s time for teenagers from Down Under to take charge in “Tomorrow, When the War Began.”

Based on the first entry in the “Tomorrow” novel series, “Tomorrow, When the War Began” introduces a group of Australian teenagers who ultimately decide to turn the tables on the foreign army that has taken over their home.

It all begins when they skip the Australia Day festival to go on a camping trip in a remote land dubbed “Hell.” Why is it called Hell? Well…they say it’s because people give uninviting names to places they don’t understand, but let’s be honest—they call it “Hell” so they have fun with saying what a paradise “Hell” is. They even share a toast, “To Hell!”

One night, they notice military aircraft racing over them and don’t think much of them until they all return home to learn that the electricity is out, their houses are empty, the phone lines are down, and their families and friends have been taken, some of which executed, by a faceless enemy. The only lights on in town are the hospital and the fairgrounds, where the people are held.

Who is this army? Why do they pick this place to invade? I don’t know. They don’t address it. If they did, they did it briefly. Unlike in “Red Dawn,” there’s no movement of Communism to be found here—in fact, we never even have a scene featuring just the enemy. We just stay with these teenagers as they’re forced to do whatever they can to survive their attack and find some way to strike back.

This is fun. This is just what I wanted in this idea—teenagers banding together to fight an army. The idea is fun and there are some well-crafted action sequences for us to endure throughout the movie, as the teens use their limited resources to fight. For example, in the middle of the film, three of the kids are being chased by enemy soldiers in these really nifty armed buggies, and having to escape by driving a garbage truck. But it’s OK, because the farmer girl can drive a tractor! How hard can a big truck like this be?

Oh, and what do they do to slow the enemy down? Dump the rubbish, of course!

“Tomorrow, When the War Began” doesn’t require a lot of thinking on our parts. The best way to enjoy this movie is to accept it as a film about teenagers who know their home better than these heavily armed, totally overpowering foreign soldiers, and use that to their advantage. The climax is quite fun, as they come up with a plan to blow up the Heron Bridge so nothing more from the enemy will be deposited (easily) from outside. The funniest part of this sequence—two of the girls talk about their crushes, turn off their two-way radios in embarrassment, and are unable to hear their friends’ warnings that a few soldiers are approaching their way. In this way, it’s interesting to see a culture brought into something that they were clearly not prepared for, and that could describe the whole movie.

And give it some credit for actually having a conscience about the issue of killing human beings in order to stay ahead. Is it right to kill in battle? Who’s to decide, really?

Almost all of the young heroes look as if they stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch ad, but they’re all pretty good actors and make decent, ironic use of their characters’ stereotypes (for example, one’s a Christian pacifistic girl who will eventually pick up a gun when she has no choice). In particular, Caitlin Stasey, as the protagonist Ellie, shows a great mix of anger and vulnerability. The other actors are Rachel Hurd-Wood (“Peter Pan”) as Ellie’s best friend Corrie, Lincoln Lewis as the cowardly Kevin, Deniz Akdeniz as bad-boy Homer, Chris Pang as Ellie’s romantic interest Lee, Ashleigh Cummings as the aforementioned Christian pacifist Robyn, and Phoebe Tonkin as rich-girl Fiona.

Oh, and I forgot to mention their school chum Chris (Andy Ryan), whom they meet midway through the film. He’s a stoner character who is of absolutely no purpose except to display poor comic relief. This character is not only useless; he’s also very obnoxious.

The ending is weak, obviously setting up for a sequel. The book series this is based upon has seven entries and this ending to the first adaptation is obviously so confident that it will spawn a sequel. That is probably my biggest pet peeve when it comes to adapting “firsts” in a series of books, because just setting up for a sequel doesn’t automatically guarantee one. As I’m typing this, plans for a sequel to “Tomorrow, When the War Began” aren’t exactly in demand. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

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