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There are few scenes where these two are separate.

I’m not sure anyone really expected this movie to be good. Doug Liman, who directed, is kind of a middle-of-the-road guy and the movie had more than two writers, which is usually a bad sign (outside of comedies… sometimes). Bucking expectations, perhaps, Edge of Tomorrow is one of the best “original” (it’s adapted from a Japanese novel, which makes a lot of sense really) scifi action films in recent memory. If there’s any fairness, it’ll be an instant classic but it looks like it is destined to be discovered somewhere down the line, ignored in its time. This is strangely fitting, I think, since movie buffs celebrate the movies of the 80’s that it most resembles.

Rather than focusing on complex metaphysical questions posed by its central conceit, a sort of Groundhog’s Day scenario, the film focuses on fun. This works way better than it would have had Edge of Tomorrow been set up as just another action epic. With a huge dose of charm and comedy in the mix, everything else that works about the movie is underlined. The performances, special effects, and creature design are all top notch. The design of the Mimics, especially, is surprisingly good.

All that said, I think Edge of Tomorrow sets itself up for a lot of bitching about its ending. This is perhaps fair enough as the ending feels like a cookie-cutter “Hollywood” ending to be sure. That is, until you think about why it could possibly work. Then you wind up surprised and impressed at how tightly it conforms to the internal logic of the movie, an element that it seems to flout in favor of being a roaring good time. It’s nice that, when you stop to think about it for any length of time, a movie like this holds up. Most of the time, you’re in a situation like with X-Men: Days of Future Past or Godzilla where, the more you think about the internal logic, the dumber the movie feels.

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW AGAIN AND AGAIN

Tom Cruise is Major William Cage, perfectly named to align with a sort of 80’s energy I think this movie (perhaps unintentionally) evokes. He’s part of the branch of the military that sells victory to the civilians. He goes on TV and talks about how badass the “Newjacket” exoskeleton technology is and how a woman called the Angel of Verdun used it to slaughter the alien “Mimics” like no one had ever done before.

Europe is pretty much conquered by a sort of viral alien species that operates somewhat like an ant colony or virus (the better analogy, which the film uses). Since humans were booted out, they’ve been trying to form up enough might to invade mainland Europe from Britain. The situation is reminiscent of WW2 which should not be a surprise given the release date of the film. I think they were trying to evoke some of that WW2 feeling, but this is absolutely NOT a “greatest generation” or even all that militaristic a movie.

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Cage is a huge weasel at first, but he gradually (we don’t know how gradually) becomes something more.

Which brings me to the 80’s thing. The military, and much of the tech (babble and nology both) are used for utility. I mean, you might question that the military efforts against the Mimics amounts to a bunch of infantry in powered armor with no tank support, air superiority, etc. But the dual realization that this is both an 80’s movie and an adaptation of a Japanese novel is enough to make you roll with it, I think.

Edge of Tomorrow, it turns out, is very much like the fun “80’s” tradition of action-scifi movies (Aliens, for example). It doesn’t have the synthy score, unfortunately, but it does have the sense of fun about itself which flirts with but ultimately never becomes true camp. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is very much a movie of our time but you can see the choices skewing away from stuff like realism with its military elements, which is something we take for granted given the pervasiveness of militarism in our culture this last decade or so. I mean, most people have a strong enough sense of military stuff to scratch their heads about the tactics in this movie. Some will probably decide this is a stupid movie based on that alone. I pity them because they’re missing the reasoning behind the choice.

Anyway. Cage pisses off General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) who is sending him to the front for the big invasion of Europe. Cage tries to get out of it but ends up having to join J Squad, full of misfits, under the command of Sgt Farrel (a super entertaining Bill Paxton, another sign that they are very much evoking 80’s movies). With J Squad, Cage is supposed to help turn the tide of a war that is not going humanity’s way due to the Mimics’ ability to anticipate them. Instead, the battle is a disaster with the Mimics laying a big ol’ ambush. Cage and everyone in his squad dies, but before he goes out Cage kills an “Alpha” mimic and gets its magic blue blood all up on him.

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The big invasion is intentionally and hugely reminiscent of D-Day.

Then he wakes up, exactly 24 hours (this is important, by the way) prior. This Groundhog’s Day stuff is explained, and works rather well as a bit of scifi magic with its own rules. The alien central intelligence has limited powers over time, able to “reset” a day when an Alpha dies. This is how it anticipates humanity’s actions and due to getting the blood on him, Cage can now trigger the resets by dying.

Only one other person has had this happen to them: Rita, the Angel of Verdun herself (Emily Blunt), who Cage eventually meets by trying to save her life. This is a recurrant idea in the film, by the way, and very cleverly allows these characters to have a relationship in spite of the temporal conditions set by the Reset ability. Cage meets and befriends Rita many times, and is forced to watch her die over and over. Their relationship, especially its romantic elements, are also cleverly underplayed and felt mostly through small actorly moments Cruise delivers at the full height of his powers.

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That sword is no joke.

With the help of Rita and Carter (Noah Taylor), a physicist who has more or less figured the Mimics out and been discredited as a result, Cage lives through enough days to train and plan ways to get at what they call the “Omega”, the central brain of the Mimic invasion. If they can take it out, they’ll win the war.

Edge of Tomorrow gets tons of mileage out of its concept but reuses shots and scenes sparingly, or tries to give us some new fun spin. Almost every time Cage dies, there’s a solid laugh as he almost always dies unexpectedly and almost always dies while letting out this frightened yelp that is just hilarious somehow.

Have you ever seen that episode of Supernatural where Dean dies over and over? That’s what this is like, except there’s exoskeletal battle suits.

Speaking of Cage’s many funny deaths, this movie should remind people why Tom Cruise was and is a big deal. The guy is 50 and he’s probably one of the few middle-aged actors capable of convincingly doing this kind of movie. He’s got so much heart, for lack of a better word, that he’s entertaining to watch even in drek like Knight & Day. In even his bad movies, he’s the best thing about them. I’ve always been a fan of his and after the unfairly maligned Oblivion, this movie feels like a bit of vindication. Especially since it sometimes feels like I’m the only person in the world who saw Ghost Protocol, which is probably the true beginning of this new phase of his career. Anyway, beyond his own watchability it’s the generosity he shows for other actors, in this case Emily Blunt.

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It’s not that she wouldn’t hold the movie without him, though. Blunt is ridiculously good here. So physical, so badass, and so beautiful.

Rita is also her own fully-formed character independent of Cage, and acts in a mentorship capacity throughout the film. But because Cruise makes room for Blunt to fully realize this character, she frequently upstages him and easily gives the audience the impression that this whole movie could be about her, or they could easily have done the Battle of Verdun instead of this. That is a great thing for two reasons. First off, having both these actors playing these characters sympatico gives us the best of both. Secondly, that room for imagining other stories and history, especially for Rita since most of it is delivered subtly and in brief moments or remarks, means that Edge of Tomorrow feels like a movie of co-leads, where the female warrior is as central as the male and not defined by a love story (though there are elements of this here).

In fact, I’d say this could be a breakout role for Blunt. She’s already pretty popular, but never as a full on action heroine. I think Edge of Tomorrow, good as it is on its own and good as it is for her, might open up a whole avenue of different roles for her. She’s also a fantastic actress, unlike Jessica Biel who once had a similar opportunity to morph into the all-too-rare action heroine.

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Cage tries to keep Rita alive, but she is never sacrificed, as a character, in service of his heroism. She is always an equal in every way but that the story is from Cage’s point of view. This may not be everything, but it’s something.

Going to the ending, it would be dishonest of me to pretend like I didn’t need it explained to me to understand why it works. At face value, it seems like a cheat to give Cage and Rita a happy ending where some of the understated (beautifully done) potential between them can be explored after the credits roll. It’s an appropriate reward for all they’ve done, maybe, but it also feels like a magical ending that defies the time loop rules the film has been using.

At face value.

My roommate brought up the fact that the day always resets at the same time. The difference is that, at the end, the fact that the war ends puts Cage in a different location and circumstance than he was in when the reset occurs. At first we thought that it was about the hours, that the time of death determined how far you went back but then why is Cage always waking up at the same time of day no matter when he dies? I assume this is because the Omega has a fixed position to return to. When its blood gets on Cage, it sends him back to that same position but everything else has changed.

I grant that this isn’t airtight, but the alternative is that the Omega’s blood is different from that of the Alphas and sends him back slightly less far. As you can see, either way relies on a lot of guesswork but I suspect that the schematics of this ending are in the film, just maybe more noticeable on a 2nd viewing than on the first.

EDIT: I think I’ve figured this out. Someone reminded me that the first scene in the movie is Cage waking up on the helicopter. This seems to indicate that the ability’s reset point is the last time he woke up. This means that, in the “invasion” reality he keeps waking up at the barracks. In this new “victory” reality, he would never get tazed, arrested, and wake up there. He’d reset to the last time he woke up before that: in the helicopter on the way to Whitehall.

Still not 100% sure why the Mimics are gone in the reset reality, though. I guess it has something to do with it actually being just Cage’s memories that are sent back to the reset point. From what I understand, the novel (called All You Need is Kill) expressly states that this is how it works. Anyway! The more you know.

Either way, the happy ending doesn’t really ruin the movie. It’s too strong for that and it closes the ending as best as it can, with a crooked grin from Cruise that sells every ounce of his potentially years of memories of this woman colliding with her eternally brusque first words to him. It’s a beautiful moment.

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Can’t wait to make that out of Lego.

Getting to things that are cool and unabashedly service nerdy entertainment value now, let me mention the Newjacket suits and the creatures.

The Newjacket suits are probably one of the best uses of “mecha” in a movie thus far. Being essentially powered armor, they occupy a space in the mecha spectrum that hasn’t really been done in a movie before. Elysium came close but Edge of Tomorrow blows it away. The movie infuses these suits with character, by the way, showing us how the soldiers decorate or modify them.

The Mimics, named for their uncanny ability to predict human behavior and tactics, sometimes feel like an update on sentinels from The Matrix trilogy, but their movements feel wholly different and they are organic in a special, otherworldly way. They seem to pulsate and squiggle like they’re only half present in our universe. It’s a very cool effect, especially early on when you first see them. They did a good job in the marketing keeping them out of focus so that the surprise is intact for the audience.

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Speaking of marketing…

…it kind of feels like Edge of Tomorrow was under-served. Similar to Pacific Rim, the marketing only really spoke to people with a vested interest either in the actors or in the concepts featured. The trailers had little plot, little focus on the opposition and stakes, etc. Pacific Rim’s marketing had somewhat different issues, but on the whole I’d say both sets fail their respective films by not ever getting at what makes them work or special. For Edge of Tomorrow, it’s the dark comedy and authenticity of Cage’s character arc that should have been front and center.

For gamers, Edge of Tomorrow may yield a special dose of vindication as it is probably the best mesh of video game concepts with cinematic narrative and aesthetics yet seen. There’s something so familiar about Cage’s deaths, respawns, and attendant improvement in skill. Without putting too fine a point on it, he’s essentially living Borderlands which makes Edge of Tomorrow almost a video game movie, or at least the first movie that really takes advantage of the hybdridization of the two mediums (more prevalent in games).

Edge of Tomorrow is a great film. The special kind of big genre movie that gets better the more you think about it, instead of the other way around. That’s my favorite kind of “big” movie, really, and it so often goes that other way.

 

 

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