The Edge of Tomorrow

You have to use your powers of separation when considering Tom Cruise. As a person, he is a flake. He’s a scientologist and is very obnoxious about it. He keeps getting married, in spite of the fact that he can’t seem to make it work. There’s a bit of an ego there too.
But he is a charismatic and talented actor. He has a range, sure, but he’s smart enough to not get very far out of it. Usually, he is fun to watch. In other words, he’s a movie star.
He also seems intent on making an intelligent science fiction movie, which makes him a fascinating figure to me. Most people in Hollywood equate SF with mindless action. Last year Cruise tried the same thing with Oblivion. It wasn’t very good. Now he’s back with The Edge of Tomorrow.
This one’s better, even though the SF conceit isn’t very original. William Cage, played by Tom Cruise, is a PR flack who joins the army when Europe is overrun by an alien race that shows no sign of stopping there. At first he uses his skills to raise recruitment levels. But after rubbing some people the wrong way, he finds himself in the front lines of a D-Day like invasion, which goes disastrously wrong and he’s killed in the first five minutes, after killing one of the aliens and getting some of its gore on him.
Then he wakes up the day before the invasion. This keeps happening to him and he gradually starts living longer. During one iteration, he temporarily saves the life of Rita Vrataski, played by Emily Blunt. Rita is an ultra-competent soldier, who is the hero of an earlier battle at Verdun, humanity’s only victory in this war thus far. Her picture is on billboards and buses all over the non-conquered world. Before she dies she tells him to find her in his next iteration.
Cage does and she tells him that the aliens are seemingly invincible because they have the ability to create time loops, to go back in time a short distance and try it again, learning a little more about the situation each time. This was why they had never lost a battle until Rita beat them at Verdun. Due to a similarity in genetic makeup, humans are able to use this power as well, if they are exposed to the alien blood like Cage was during the invasion and Rita was during the battle at Verdun. Unfortunately, she lost the power when she was injured and got a blood transfusion. Now Cage must find her during every iteration, get her to train him up and then find a way to defeat the aliens.
Needless to say, Groundhog Day comes to mind, as well as Source Code and a well-loved episode of Stargate SG-1. There are probably many novels and stories that use it and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some pulp writer in the 20’s thought of it first, if it wasn’t Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. The main danger with this kind of narrative structure of course is repetition. You can’t depict the same events time after time, even with slight variations, without boring your audience to tears. This is where montage comes in and The Edge of Tomorrow uses it brilliantly. Cage’s training and his familiarization with unfolding events is depicted in a few short moments of film. It slows down occasionally during moments where they make major advances in their knowledge of the enemy and of the situation. The screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and John-Henry and Jez Butterworth is adroit in navigating these waters as is Doug Limon’s direction.
Tom Cruise is his usual movie star self. His arc from shallow flack to steely soldier is a little unbelievable namely because at the beginning they give us no indication that there is a soldier inside that flack, waiting to get out. But he plays both parts effortlessly. Emily Blunt is fine as a closed off super soldier, still mourning the loss of her ability to create time loops. She had hoped to end the war but couldn’t.
The effects are good and the design of the ships and the cool-looking exoskeletons they use in battle are great.
The Edge of Tomorrow is not going to make anyone forget 2001 or Bladerunner, but it is a pretty good, thought provoking movie that approaches intelligence. The fact that its premise is a little overused shouldn’t bother anybody because they made it work.
Just as the fact that Tom Cruise is a bit of a jerk should not keep us from enjoying his performances.

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