Stuart Beattie’s Tomorrow, When The War Began is one of the best action blockbusters to ever emerge from Australia (even if it fails somewhat as a teen drama). Based on John Marsden’s much-loved book of the same name, Beattie manages to capture the novel’s ominous tone without sacrificing the fun of its hypothetical “what would I do?” premise. It’s not without problems: it too often feels like the first part of a story without a totally satisfying conclusion; the script is a little clumsy; the subtext is a little troubling. But for the most part, Tomorrow, When The War Began is an enjoyable flick that will likely be adored by young viewers. Besides, it’s a hell of a lot ballsier than that other young adult saga.
Caitlin Stasey stars as Ellie, a teenage girl from the small town of Wirrawee. She organises a weekend getaway with her best friend Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood), mainly so her recently-deflowered BFF can have some time away from home with hunky Kevin (Lincoln Lewis). To maintain the façade of a group camping trip, Ellie and Corrie invite troublemaker Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), prim and proper Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin), conservative Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings), and shy Lee (Chris Pang). After a mostly innocent weekend of flirting and roughhousing, the septet return to Wirrawee to find their home has been changed forever. An army of invaders from the surrounding Asian nations have infiltrated their town as a means of conquering Australia. The group has no choice but to come of age – quickly – and wage a war of their own.
Stuart Beattie emerges from the world of screenwriting to make his directorial debut, and he displays an impressive knack for constructing electrifying action sequences. Tomorrow When The War Began is a more satisfying actioner than nearly any other recent American blockbuster, including (but not limited to): GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra, Clash of the Titans, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and The Expendables. Despite his talents as an action director, he struggles somewhat with the writing of convincing dialogue (a syndrome I like to call Cameronitis). That being said, the entire cast impresses with their heartfelt performances, in spite of Beattie’s clunky script. Best of all is Caitlin Stasey – sure to be one of Australia’s next big acting exports.
Where the film becomes really problematic is in its crude depiction of the invading forces, who are apparently comprised of “some” Asian nations. The film goes to great pains to remind us that we shouldn’t care who the armies belong to; merely that they are now here in Australia and our young heroes need to focus on taking them out. Fair enough. But then there are tacked-on moments such as Ellie’s knowing gaze at a painting of British colonials first meeting the indigenous population of Australia – a parallel that is never explored. Even more cringe-worthy is one character’s declaration that these armies have no right to come to our country and steal what our parents worked so hard to build. Erm, O.K?
I’m all for a film that gleefully throws back to the ‘Red Fear’ films of the eighties, but is Beattie really so brazen to draw parallels between Australia’s relationship with immigrants and an invading army of mass-murderers. Beattie wants us to ignore the race of the invading army yet still litters the film with muddled allusions that seem to call upon a deeper reading. I’m not trying to paint the film as racist, or even ignorant. Merely naïve (much like its protagonists). Still, if I was confused by the film’s mixed messages and false moralising (…“the invaders are really just kids like us, only from a less fortunate land; however, we must not feel guilty when we gun them down”…) I feel the infinitely smarter English students who check out the film during their inevitable school excursions will raise an eyebrow themselves.
Still, these are minor nitpicks in the face of the film’s achievements. Compare this to that aforementioned other young adult book adaptation, and there is really no competition. Tomorrow When The War Began trumps the Twilight saga in almost every way imaginable; from its staging of action set pieces to its depiction of teen sexuality (the Twilight series’ bread and butter!). It’s a fun romp that will no doubt become as beloved as the novel on which it is based on. It also ends on a note that makes me look forward to a sequel – a quality that few films have.