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Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow
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BY ALISON BAILES

Like a video game that challenges him to reach a new level every time he plays, “Edge of Tomorrow” puts Tom Cruise through his military paces over and over again until the enemy is defeated and peace restored to Earth.

I don’t think I’m giving away too much there. It’s pretty much a given that Movie Star Tom will save the world in his new summer movie action spectacle! But what is surprising, is how engaging this one is and how watchable Cruise is!  He plays Major William Cage, a glib army PR man for the new war on terror. Aliens known as “mimics”, in the shape of giant, octopussy bugs have invaded Germany and spread out across Europe destroying civilization in their wake. What they want is never clear and it’s not important.  They are Evil and must be stopped.

Cage was in the ROTC but has never seen active service. His duty consists of spouting rah rah rhetoric on TV talk shows and 24 hour news channels like a cocky cheerleader. “We fight. That’s what we do”, he says with his TV-ready steely stare and jaw while men die by the hundreds each day. But when he runs afoul of United Defense Force head (Brendan Gleeson) he finds himself  unceremoniously shipped to FOB Heathrow and thrown in with J squad, a motley band of foot soldiers who are about to be airdropped onto the beaches of Northern France for a last-ditch effort to hold off the creatures.

What makes these scenes so compelling is Cruise’s performance. Accustomed to playing men of confident capability, Cruise becomes a slick, entitled coward, begging his troop sergeant (a fantastic Bill Paxton) for help and preferential treatment. But Cage is listed as a deserter and is treated as such. His fellow soldiers laugh at his fear as he is strapped into his giant robotic body armor (the soldiers look like small Transformers) and refuse to tell him how to take the safety latch off his weapons. The soldiers are flown across the English channel (over the white cliffs of Dover no less). Cage’s terror is palpable. When the plane’s undercarriage opens up, the raging war below is visible. The men (and women) are dropped into carnage and mayhem. All similarities to WWII beach invasions are intentional. Director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity”) orchestrates a sense of panic, chaos and insanity as men are blown up or obliterated by the lightening-quick enemy.

The untrained Cage dies pretty quickly. But then he wakes up back at the FOB and I groaned. A dream? Surely not such a cheap device? But as Cage relives this day again and again, each time surviving for longer, I realized he was in a strange time loop brought vividly and somehow credibly to life by the smart script by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (from the novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka). Each new day, Cage is able to foresee danger, to help his fellow soldiers and even save their lives. At one point he rescues Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a hardened warrior known as the Angel of Verdun due to her record on the battlefield. Cryptically she tells him to come find her when he next wakes up.

And so he does. Blunt brings her strong beauty to the role of Rita and the two actors make a good screen couple. She starts to train Cage to hunt down and kill the “Omega”….the brain of the aliens. There’s a lot of babble about why Cage is able to die again and again. It’s hardly plausible but it doesn’t really matter. A suspension of disbelief is a small price to pay for the excitement of the battle scenes and the expectation of what’s to come.

Liman does a great job of drawing on familiar movie tropes to tell a sci-fi story that is steeped in realism and immediacy.  The battlefield evokes Omaha beach and he gets the soldierly camaraderie just right. Each time Cage fails to outwit an alien he is sent back to square one, or Rita kills him to reset the day. As Cage learns, he draws the respect of his squad and the admiration of Rita. Luckily, Liman wisely foregoes a gauzy love scene.

By the time Cage reaches a decimated Paris, a large-scale set piece with the Louvre in ruins, he has become the fierce, brave, resourceful character that we expect from Cruise. It’s a perfect character arc that ends with a twinkle in his eye, as if Cruise knows that the ending of this film is akin to the starting point of many of his others. And gun to my head, I’d happily go back to the beginning and watch it all again.

 

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