Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Ground-War Day
Cruise Missiles and Blunt Instruments

The adage goes "a coward dies a thousand deaths," but Major William Cage, the character played by Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, dies so many times you lose count.  A coward through and through, he's a spokesman for the United Defense Force, "the coalition of the willing" in the battle for Earth supremacy between humans and the invading "mimic's" (not sure why they're called that as they don't "mimic" anything).  He doesn't even have the semi-respectable title of "war merchant;" he's more of a "war marketer"—peddling the largely untrue stories of human victories to the news organizations (played out in the first few minutes as background) to beef up recruiting.

He's a smiling pompous ass, all capped-teeth and no bite, so when he's called before Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson, looking sour and not amused) and informed that, as part of his duties, he'll be on the front lines of Operation Downfall (not the most inspiring of tactical names) recording the invasion and subsequent outcome.  Cruise's manic intensity has been used for comic outcomes before, but his quick-silver responses trying to weasel out of the assignment are nicely played out and an aborted AWOL-ing leaves him waking up at Heathrow Airport before the attack, in hand-cuffs, and protesting his deployment to the most unsympathetic of ears (Bill Paxton—"No, suh, I'm from Kin-tucky"—wonderful) before being introduced to his fellow soldiers who regard him with disdain.
The most often used shot of Tom Cruise: "On your feet, maggot!"
The invasion goes poorly—so poorly, in fact, that it becomes obvious within a few minutes that the supposedly secret invasion was known to occur—transport ships are blasted out of the sky, crushing the soldiers below in their engineered battle-suits.  At one point, the trapped Cage sees the Allies' best soldier, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt)—"the Angel of Verdun"—being taken out after ventilating several mimics, who roll about like long-tentacled, angry Koosh balls, before he figures out how to fire his weapons (training must have been very basic), exploding a particularly nasty-looking mimic, which douses him in its toxic blood, that chews away his face...*
Cage wakes up.  He's back at Heathrow, handcuffed, lying on the same back-packs he originally came to on.  Events play out as they had before, but, now, everybody thinks he's nuts because he remembers everything and starts completing sentences before they're finished, anticipating events before they've happened and yammering on about how the invasion is going to be a disaster.  The invasion occurs again, but this time, Cage's mouth is duct-taped because he's become annoying.  This time, he's able to prevent a couple of attacks from killing his comrades, sees Vrataski again, but is killed in a different manner.

Cut back to Heathrow, handcuffed, backpacks.  This time, Cage isn't quite so talkative or whiny, the drop on the battlefield stays the same, but he's able to keep Vrataski alive long enough for her to say "Come find me when you wake up" before an explosion takes them both out.
Okay.  There's already a problem here.  Forget the Groundhog Day/Source Code scenario, which is quite clever in its "given-enough-time-I can-learn-anything" basis applied to war-time.  This gives the movie a video-game vibe, where you play the same scenario over and over, hopefully learning how to do things more efficiently before you run out of "lives."  But, as scenarists Christopher McQuarrie and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth are quick to show, nothing stays the same.  Cage keeps reliving the same day, but everything changes—if he isn't immolated by a mimic, he could be hit by a truck if he isn't paying attention—but when he dies, he's returned to the same point—Heathrow, hand-cuffs, backpacks to relive everything in that time-line up to the point when he is again killed, which could come at any time.  But, he is also changing—he remembers everything from his past "resets" and applies that knowledge (for whatever good it may do) to try and last longer before he is "reset" again, back to Square One.
The most often used shot of Emily Blunt, for some reason
It's at that point that Cage tries to contact Vrataski (a couple of times he's killed, rather comically, like Wile E. Coyote, in the attempt).  Finally, he does find her before being "reset."  There's just enough time for her to recognize that he has the ability that she once had and lost after "bleeding out" on the battlefield.  For some reason, the blood of the mimic in his system gains him their ability to "reset" time, reliving the same experience over and over once they're killed, so they can re-experience the events and change them to their advantage.  As somebody says "An enemy who knows the future can never lose."

So, Cage must die...and spectacularly...in order to be returned to the same point handcuffed on those backpacks and re-experience the events he's gone through...and hopefully change them.  More than any other soldier, other than Vrataski, Cage knows the enemy and must minute by minute survive long enough to learn how to defeat them...then die to do so.
Neat concept, that.  Time is the enemy in any war.  Engage long enough and you learn tactics, weaknesses and strengths.  Keep going and you risk lethargy, fatigue, apathy and loss of will.  The one who wins is always the one who lasts longest, and in this case, Cage gets to die to fight another day.  It IS like a video game, and as long as Cage blows up real good, he has an infinite number of lives.  Training with Vrataski to learn how to defeat the mimics, he's injured time and again, and rather than waste any more time, she hauls off practically (and comically) just shoots him. 
"Start a-gain. Take three hundred sixty-something..."
With the gift of time, why waste it?  Better to waste him, instead.

Director Liman keeps this from getting old by not being too consistent once he's established the ground-hog rules the first couple times.  If something interesting happens that changes things, he'll start the reset with that and spares us the progression that got us there (we have, after all, seen it all before).  And Cruise manages to do little acting touches throughout that impress—at one point, he reaches a battle-hardened "screw it" attitude and you can read the deadness in his eyes and the set of his jaw even without the benefit of an IMAX screen (and, by the way, I can't imagine that 3-D does much for this movie).  And it's refreshing to see him suffer a lot before he can achieve the "Super-Cruise" moments that come to be expected since his early movies.  Now, his face is starting to relax, his brow wrinkling (being refreshingly botox-free) and he seems to be comfortable in this skin, not pushing the performance, as has been his M.O. throughout his career.  I like this actor—he doesn't look like he's acting.

One wishes the ending lived up to the concept, enough cleverness is poured into this to make it special that the way it ends feels disappointing, rote and too "feel-good."  The rules have been bent enough that it makes one wish that somebody had come up with a clever way to mess with the ending, rather than think safely so "in the box" as Edge of Tomorrow ultimately does.

Maybe next time...
The most often used shot of Emily Blunt, for some reason

* Edge of Tomorrow is pretty graphic for a PG-13 movie.

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