Tom Cruise vs The Aliens
Sounds stupid, but Edge of Tomorrow is actually suspenseful and surprisingly funny.
Rated PG-13, 113 min. Directed by Doug Liman. Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way, Kick Gurry, Franz Drameh, Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley.
Oh, hooray. Director Doug Liman has given us exactly the kind of sci-fi action drama we were hoping for from the indie filmmaker who snuck up on the action genre and booted it into the 21st century with 2002’s The Bourne Identity. Edge of Tomorrow is, unsurprisingly, smart, cleverly playing with clichés it knows we’re familiar with and even goofing on its own storytelling. It is also, surprisingly, funny, an unanticipated treat since it’s set during an alien invasion that humanity seemingly cannot throw off.
Our hero, William Cage, is no hero. He’s a coward and a sniveling weasel. He wears the uniform of a U.S. Army major, but he’s no soldier: he’s a PR flack. We see some of Cage’s smarm as he appears in a montage of TV news reports that opens the film, and he himself embodies a sort of spin. For Cage is charming, movie-star handsome Tom Cruise in a smashing uniform, the very image of inspiring soldierly spirit when that is, in fact, nothing but image.
Cage’s weaseling we witness when he turns it on General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), head of the “United Defense Force” that is about to launch a 21st-century version of D-Day with an invasion from England of alien-held France. His weaseling ends badly — the scene is a little marvel of witty writing in which character drives plot (which can be said of the whole script) — and Cage ends up in the middle of that invasion.
Like Cage himself, we get dumped right into the middle of this war. This alien invasion movie isn’t really an alien invasion movie. We see only snippets of the aliens’ arrival and initial attacks, in that opening news montage, and we don’t ever know — and never learn — what they want with us or our planet. (Another witty little scene deals explicitly with this question, and comes up with an excellent answer.)
Unlike movies actually based on videogames, though, this one never feels like we’re watching someone play a game we can never join. Even as the day loops repeatedly through the same events, there’s still a sense that things are moving forward… and, indeed, they are, in ways that often become supremely suspenseful, as when Cage has knowledge of things that Vrataski can never have: she is not reliving this day. There is much that is deeply poignant here, as Cage gets to know Vrataski in a way that she can never get to know him, and as we discover that she experienced something similar at Verdun; the film does not linger on this, just accepts it as a tragic side effect of this war. There is an astonishing level of tension in events that repeat themselves, and that tension gets ratcheted up in the finale in a wonderfully ingenious way.
What Edge of Tomorrow ends up being about is this: perception. How we see ourselves and how the world sees us are two very different things, and the difference is a wider gulf for Cage and Vrataski. She is lauded as a hero for reasons that no one will ever know about, an adulation that, it is hinted, she doesn’t care for. And that officer’s uniform that commands such respect for Cage is ironic in a completely diametrical way at the end of the film than it was at the beginning. Heroism, for them, is more a matter of “you have no damn idea what I’ve been through” than it has been for any heroes ever before.
Edge of Tomorrow is playing at the Fox-Bay, Hillside, IPic/Bay Shore, Majestic, Mayfair Mall, Menomonee Falls, North Shore, Ridge, Saukville, Showtime, South Shore and Southgate.