‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new sci-fi movie Edge of Tomorrow is a pretty good action flick. Although wildly derivative, it is so well-done, so well-paced, that the flaws essentially disappear while you watch. The action starts fairly early and continues to just about the end, and it is a wild roller coaster. It even has some surprising bits of humor to add to the action.
Earth has been invaded by a race of aliens who have taken over almost all of continental Europe, and humans are fighting back. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a cowardly public relations man, is assigned to take part in an invasion, doing film work right from the first wave. He objects, mainly interested in his own survival, although Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), the man in charge, points out that with the new mechanized body suits, it takes almost no time to train, and killing the aliens, called mimics (although why they’re called that is never explained) should be easy. He refuses to go, is knocked unconscious and wakes up at a depot as a private with a bus going by with a huge picture of the “Angel of Verdun,” Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who killed over 300 mimics during battle. A lot of this is fairly similar to Starship Troopers. He has no idea of what is happening but discovers he is also listed as a deserter and is treated terribly by his squad. Once on the beach, where the army is massacred, he actually meets Vrataski, a really good soldier, but both are killed.
He wakes up and repeats the day and is killed again. And again. He begins to learn how to survive. This is like Groundhog Day without the laughs. But just as Bill Murray’s character in that film learned to change things, Cage learns more about survival and briefly rescues Rita Vratasky (the first name possibly being a tribute to the Andie MacDowell character). He tells her how to move because he has relived the day, and she tells him to find her when he wakes up. He discovers that she used to be like him and has Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), a scientist, explain what happens. It seems there is only one alien brain, and it has different kinds of creatures. One of them, a rare one, has special blood that creates a link between whoever it bleeds on and the alpha brain. Every time that person dies, time is reset. Vratasky trains Cruise day after day, after which he gets killed. She went through the same thing until a blood transfusion changed her back.
The two of them eventually fight their way to the alpha, and you can probably figure out a lot of the rest. One real kicker is that as you watch some of the scenes, you discover that Cage has lived through them before, gradually learning to overcome obstacles. And, of course, falling in love with Vratasky, although it is always the first time she remembers going through it. The imbalance in feelings improves the movie, since she is always target-focused rather than worrying about him.
The cast is good. Cruise is a good enough actor that he could have done this in his sleep, and he holds the film together. Blunt is great in an action role; she is believable as the fierce soldier who had to watch her comrades die horribly over and over while also being vulnerable enough to be lovable. Gleeson and Taylor are believable in their fairly brief roles, and the soldiers who keep reappearing to Cage were also good.
The problem with a movie like this is that it carries you along so fast there is not time to reflect on issues of causality and meaning. That is a major reason why most science fiction movies are not really great despite incredible special effects. Good science fiction makes you think a bit. Movies like this one, which deal with motive and causality but never get to the point, limit themselves.
I enjoyed this film. It did everything a good summer movie should do: it entertained. But it could have, should have been better. The filmmakers spent a fortune on special effects. More time on the script would have been better. But it was fun while it lasted, and this is a good one to see in a theater just for the special effects.