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Edge of Tomorrow

June 6, 2014
Edge of Tomorrow

I find that, as I grow older, I’m getting more and more forgiving of Tom Cruise. And so, when the first trailer showed up with him starring in a cross between Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers, directed by Doug Liman, the same guy who helmed the first (good) Bourne movie, I didn’t brush it off the way I might have five or ten years ago. I’m glad I didn’t; Edge of Tomorrow may not be revolutionary, but it’s a well-built and exciting sci-fi action thriller.

Adapted from Sakurazaka Hiroshi’s pulp novel All You Need Is Kill, the film drops us into the downward slide of an alien invasion of Earth. Most of central and western Europe has fallen, and the United Defense Force is mounting an assault on all fronts. American and British troops in particular are set to reenact the Normandy landings, this time in power-armored troops jumping out of dropships onto the beach.

Among them is the recognizable American PR face of the UDF, former-ad-man Major William Cage (Cruise), busted down to buck private and kept in line by a stern sergeant (Bill Paxton). Cage has no combat experience, and is mostly there for the optics, as a buffer for the reputation of the commanding general (Brendan Gleeson). And, of course, he dies within minutes of the landing.

And that’s where things get weird. Cage wakes up back at the forward operating base at Heathrow, just like he had the day before. Everything happens as it did before. And he dies, just like he did before. But each time around he gets a little better, and remembers a little more, like playing a video game from a save state until the right sequence of moves gets into your muscle memory. This much should be pretty easy to grasp; we’ve seen this movie before.

But unlike Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow wants to dig into why Cage keeps reincarnating. He manages to make contact with Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), “The Angel of Verdun”. It turns out she’d been through the same thing before, which led to the UDF’s one real victory so far. She’s figured out, with the help of a former scientist (Noah Taylor), that it’s actually the aliens’ own power that Cage has tapped into. The ability to reset and retry is pretty much the biggest force-multiplier you can get.

As for the invaders themselves, they’re one of the best parts, if only because they are so utterly alien. Over and over sci-fi movies offer yet another makeup job on creatures that are basically humanoid in appearance and psychology. Even Starship Troopers gave us giant bugs not too different from the ones we know on earth. But the “Mimics” are something utterly new and strange. The line troops are hyperkinetic, biomechanical Koosh balls, never still, with metallic tentacles striking out in all directions at once. Telepathically linked as they are, they behave utterly unlike humanoid soldiers, and little time is wasted even speculating about their motivations.

The action is fun and, as Liman frames it, largely comprehensible. The beach assault has to make a lot of spatial sense because we keep going back to it over and over again, seeing the same events play out with slight variations, learning to anticipate along with Cage, and notice the changes when they come. Planning out the space instead of just diving in with the shaky-cam is essential to being able to repeat the shots. But having the action planned also keeps every shot in one coherent space, so it’s that much easier to follow no matter how fast the camera moves or the cuts come. The results are great fun to watch, and it’s a shame we can’t expect to see the same care applied to all of this summer’s blockbusters.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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