Edge of Tomorrow (PG-13)
A man plopped into a war of aliens versus humans finds himself reliving the same day over and over in Edge of Tomorrow, a surprisingly fun sci-fi.
Landing in Germany, an alien race has begun an invasion of Earth. In five years they have waged devastating war and they now hold Europe. But a recent victory by the United Defense Forces in Verdun has injected a note of hope into the war. A heavily weaponized metal body-suit helped Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) beat back the enemy. Her image, Rosie the Riveter/Uncle Sam Wants You-style, is now being used as a symbol to rally a forthcoming human invasion, D-Day-style, of France.
Selling Rita’s big win and the success of the “jackets,” as the weapon-suits are called, is Major William Cage (Tom Cruise). Apparently elevated to major on the basis of marketing expertise and age, Cage has been called by Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) of the United Defense Forces to help sell the invasion, starting by joining the soldiers as they hit the beaches and engage the enemy.
Slow your roll, Eisenhower; I did not sign up for that, Cage tells Brigham, and then tries to bribe/threaten his way out of the assignment. OK then, Brigham says, arrest that man, and before Cage can make a run for it he is knocked unconscious and handcuffed. When he wakes up, he finds himself at the forward operating base as soldiers prepare for the launch. Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) informs Cage that he is now Private Cage and he will be suiting up for the next day’s invasion. When the invasion begins, Cage, ill-prepared to use the fancy suit he has been stuffed into, is dropped on the beach and begins a frantic struggle to just not die. He doesn’t succeed, but right before he expires he manages to kill a few aliens, including an Alpha, one of the aliens’ commanding entities.
Then, boom, back Cage is to the forward operating base with Farell telling him about his new rank of Private and his forthcoming doomed mission. As with all movies of this kind, Cage’s first time reliving the day is all confusion. The next time he tries to warn others of the forthcoming massacre. Slowly, he starts to use his familiarity with events to attempt to live a little longer each “day,” eventually living long enough to meet up with Rita, who has a look of recognition when Cage tells her about the thing that was about to kill her. Find me when you wake up, Rita says right before they both die again, and when Cage’s day resets again, he seeks Rita out.
Eventually, he learns that the aliens, particularly the larger Alphas, are connected by a central controlling brain-like thing. The Alphas have been able to beat the humans and protect the brain by manipulating time, resetting the day with the knowledge of where the humans are going to show up when one of the Alphas dies in battle (a la X-Men: Days of Future Past). Because he killed an Alpha, Cage now has a bit of that power — an advantage that he and Rita (one of the few people who will believe him) can use to fight the aliens.
Side note: I like these aliens. I don’t really get these aliens, which apparently travel through space in something like a meteor and have the ability to manipulate time and have a hive mind but nonetheless are still only in mainland Europe after five years on Earth. (Human armies, if you think about it, have done basically that in less time.) But this movie managed to make the aliens both believably powerful enough to conquer one of the most densely populated, technologically advanced sections of the globe but also believably slow enough to not have conquered all of Earth. These aliens (for the most part) look like a cross between Venom from Spider-Man 3 and those sticky rubbery Wacky WallWalkers and their mode of travel tends to resemble that of cartoon moles. It is believable that they can only conquer land so fast. Or, at least, it is believable enough.
I went into this movie with a heavy sense of drudgery, like it was a thing I had to cross off the list of the day’s chores; fold the laundry, do the dishes, watch a late-era Tom Cruise movie. I don’t know what, exactly, about the trailers had me feeling like a cloud hung over this movie — maybe it was the shot of Cruise on a motorcycle. (Vulture.com has created a supercut of Cruise-motorcycle scenes scored to “Danger Zone.” That super-cut might be the best way to sum up my pre-movie feelings.) Edge of Tomorrow surprised me — and not only because of my subterranean expectations.
Though I spent the first few scenes recasting the movie in my head (who is the mid-aughts Christian Bale these days? Michael Fassbender?), actually Cruise turns out to be kind of perfectly cast as a guy who has the cockiness and handsomeness that the hero should have but not really the physicality or the willingness to back it up. Cage’s backstory, head of an ad agency who lost his business in the economic destruction of the war and is now an officer serving mostly as a camera-ready talking head, calls to mind an oilier version of a Don Draper, a smooth exterior hiding internal turmoil. Cage is a guy who went into the army because the army was where the business was, not because he was looking to do any fighting. He’s not just a reluctant hero, he’s a “hero” who is basically dragged along by the circumstances of the story and only when he meets the bad-ass Rita does he learn how to take control. In fact, Rita is far more the traditional action hero — taciturn, brooks no nonsense, goal-oriented, dedicated to the job of winning the war at the expense of her own life. And, in another delightful surprise, Emily Blunt is perfectly cast in that role as well.
The movie makes excellent use of these two actors, particularly in the way it handles their relationship with each other (which, because of the “resetting,” is for Rita basically never more than a day old). I almost felt like there was, somewhere along the line, some studio note asking for a bit of romance, and the movie’s creators responded with a note-perfect letter-of-the-law but not spirit-of-the-law smallest-possible infusion of romantic something between Vrataski and Cage. It’s almost a thumbing of the nose at the idea that a movie like this needs that element to work. As with so many of the little moments and tones of Edge of Tomorrow, I couldn’t always tells if it was on purpose but was delighted by the awesomeness of it.
The movie also does a spot-on job of mixing in humor without descending into camp. There are a few laugh-out-loud funny moments that help keep things lively without being jokey. And, while I don’t know if I totally buy the “sci” part of this sci-fi (and all of the aliens are definitely at their most impressive when we are seeing the least of them), all of the film’s internal rules and sci-fi features are believable enough that you could enjoy the movie and the overall plan without twisting your mind up in knots thinking about it.
Edge of Tomorrow is a rare popcorn delight — a genuinely exciting, surprising and entertaining action movie not based on some previously established universe of characters. Good for you, Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, for saving not just the world but a little piece of the summer. A-
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material. Directed by Doug Liman with a screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth (from the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka), Edge of Tomorrow is an hour and 53 minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros.
As seen in the June 12, 2014 issue of the Hippo.