Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow (2014): Doug Liman

Live. Die. Repeat. Few taglines get better than that. Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt. Few headline actors get better than that. Edge of Tomorrow came and went in theaters in the summer of 2014, earning $100 million and finishing the year in 33rd place, a few tickets shy of Noah. It should have done better. Why didn’t it? Perhaps I can address that in today’s edition.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Forced to aid an invasion of alien-held Normandy, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Cage lives, dies, repeats.

Hero (5/10)

Lieutenant Colonel William Cage is a coward. Rarely are cowards the foci of movies, but rarely do they receive so many chances to shine. Cage begins the movie relating to the media for the Dwight Eisenhower of the war against the Mimics, General Brigham. He sells the invasion for what it should be, a huge attack and a great victory. He also tells the world of the deeds of the Angel of Verdun, Rita Vrataski.

Brigham summons Cage to his office and surprises him, ordering him to accompany the first wave of Normandy invaders and film the fight. Cage, who probably has studied history, knows that a lot of people will die. But hey, Brigham says, the invasion’s a surprise. A surprise to the Mimics, and Cage. Cage tries to weasel his way out of it, even blackmailing the general, runs away, is tasered, and falls unconscious.

That’s the Cage we get as the movie begins. By movie’s end, he is a very different person. When a fellow soldier asks what he should do if a bunch of Mimics have him cornered, Cage says, “I expect you to take on for the team.” Cage plans to take one.

What for most people on Earth was one day, for Cage was a thousand. He matured months, years maybe, all in one day. When he first invades Normandy he is a sweating, quaking wreck. He can’t use his suit, can’t even unsafety the weapons. Through dozens of practice sessions Cage gains confidence and skill, and by movie’s end he can lead a group of fighters into the brain of the enemy’s forces.

Tom Cruise is the best actor to pull off the subtlety needed to flesh out a character like Cage. If you lift weights, you lift the weight the same way each time. Repetitions are the key. Edge is a weightlifting movie, but watching people lift weights is boring. Cruise, as intense an actor God ever made, convinces. You can see it when Cage meets Vrataski for the last first time. The camera follows Cage as he swaggers the swagger of the guy who killed the Mimics’ Hitler.

I don’t think I like this Cage, though. He gets to mature because he has the cheat codes for the battle–unlimited lives. Practice makes perfect, the saying goes, and he knows perfectly what will happen each time he awakens. He finally shows the courage needed to kill the Omega in the final act, when he knows that he will die for a final time. It wasn’t enough for me.

Villain (3/10)

Mimics invaded Earth on an asteroid. Untold numbers of creatures hold Europe, and only a last-ditch, all-out invasion of the French beaches will rescue the planet. It was meant to be a surprise attack, but the Mimics were ready. The orange guys come out of the sand to kill the mechanized infantry. Cage blasts a blue guy, dies, and wakes again.

During the initial invasion and a few subsequent ones, we believe the blue Mimics, rare and graciously on the opposite end of the color wheel from their orange counterparts, are the villains. Cage soon learns that the brains behind the attack is actually just one brain, the purplish Omega. Turns out the orange guys are just the claws and the blue ones are like nerves.

The Omega likes water and isolation. Its tendrils house a rotating purple ball of energy/matter that controls the blue and the orange Mimics and possesses the power to relive a day thousands of times, until it knows what the humans will do. The Mimics know when and where Operation Downfall, the invasion of France, will take place, though it’s sold to the humans as a surprise. When the aliens are there and killing many, the humans are the ones surprised. Uh, maybe not share your invasion strategy over the airwaves.

The chief danger the Omega poses is information gathering. It functions like a giant computer running billions of chess simulations, and with each loss it learns more. The humans were allowed to win at Verdun so they would think they could win. So Vrataski believes. The Verdun victory would convince the humans to try one last invasion and they would all die.

Sounds like a good plan, but we never know why the aliens attacked Earth, only that they did. This is a major flaw in the movie, but considering other reasons for invading Earth in past films, perhaps the filmmakers were wise to keep mum about it. Best to accept the premise and keep going.

Action/Effects (4/10)

The invading Mimics resemble the flying robots from The Matrix. They streak across the landscape with dozens of black tails fluttering behind. The quadrupeds’ mouths glow orange and they hop around like angry bunnies. They don’t look like fighters. We barely see them.

The movie’s primary action scene is the United Defense Force invasion of the Normandy coast. The attack is supposed to be a surprise. Hundreds of quadcopter troop carriers fly from Heathrow across the Channel to drop mechanized soldiers. Cage’s ship is attacked mid-flight, and he is forced to drop early. The camera follows Cage as he falls through the sky and hits the sand.

Cage spends most of the battle begging people to tell him how to arm his weapons. When he finally unites with J-squad, some Mimics materialize from the sand and kill them. A larger, blue Mimic leaps atop Cage, but Cage finds a Claymore mine that indicates which side to point toward the enemy. He blows it, and it kills them both.

The invasion is restaged several times. The chaos never abates, but Cage improves each time, and we get to see those mech suits and what they do. Each arm sports huge machine guns. Popping from the back like scorpion stingers are a a rocket launcher and gatling gun. Emily Blunt tired quickly when working with the suits, some of which weighed 135 pounds. Those were the props. What would the real things weigh?

Vrataski carries a four-foot helicopter rotor that evokes William Wallace’s claymore from Braveheart and smashes Mimics like they’re blood-sated mosquitoes. She carries guns and drives cars at top speed, and when Mimics pop out of the trailer, Cage smashes open the car roof and unloads everything into the aliens.

Considering that the invasion staged again and again is an all-out, last-ditch attempt to wrest Europe from the Mimics, we see little action. The humans never make it off the beach, and many are killed on their ships. Cage spends ample time dying. Edge just doesn’t have that much action. Its major battle scene occurs in the beginning, and the climax is a sneaky infiltration of the enemy’s lair.

Sidekicks (8/8)

Emily Blunt plays Rita Vrataski, the Full Metal Bitch, the most decorated soldier in the UDF. Rita swallowed some Alpha blood back at Verdun, and she lived the same day hundreds of times, as Cage is. “He’s me,” she says to her scientist buddy. The resets helped her become the deadliest soldier on the planet.

For several of the days we see Vrataski before she knows Cage is like her, and many times we first glimpse her either killing mimics with her industrial sword or in her practice facility doing a horizontal handstand. She’s fierce and composed.

When Cage reveals his gift to her the first time, she immediately understands, and watches him as if he were the Second Coming. Vrataski has waited for another like her, and she never questions him. She’s smart.

Cage spends most the movie in reset mode. He knows that if he dies he’ll awaken the day before. Vrataski fights as ferociously, but for her there is no other today. For this we admire her all the more. She’s a soldier. When Cage tells her not to start the helicopter in the French countryside, promising her that she never gets farther, she does it anyway, because it makes the most sense for reaching their objective.

I just love Emily Blunt. She shows the toughness and fragility needed in the role. She has an edge in her gaze that you don’t want to meet, but her body is rail thin, not one you’d expect from the soldier with the highest kill count in the UDF. And she carried a helicopter rotor as her primary weapon.

Henchmen (4/8)

The grunt Mimics are the orange-mouthed tentacly buggers that defend the French coast. They excel at fighting. They appear able to combine their tentacles into limbs when needed to jump across an area twice their size. Picture a remote controlled car. Now imagine a toddler controlling it. That car would whip and flip and spin and roll like a demon, always maxing out. The Mimics move like that: unpredictable and dangerous. But they’re aliens so they have no personality.

Stunts (6/6)

The actors wore those combat jackets when filming the action scenes. They weighed up to 135 pounds, and those were the movie props. I can’t find the line between stunts and effects when the actors use their jackets, but I assume much of it was stunt work. And it shows. The effects team made more than 120 suits to be used throughout the film, cranking out nuts and bolts every day.

Cruise and Blunt labored throughout shooting wearing those things, running in them, fighting with them, and pretending that the suits were powered and could help them duck, dive, dip, and dodge, and shoot thousands of bullet rounds and rockets at scathing enemy aliens.

Climax (3/6)

Cage finally sees where the Omega really is hiding, beneath the Louvre. They might want to eradicate our species, but at least the Mimics have good taste. Cage knows he has to kill the Omega before the invasion begins, and to do so, he’ll need to fly there, and to fly there he’ll need a troop carrier and squad of troops to man it. Where to find a squad of troops? Send in trusty J-squad. First though, they need some convincing. Cage relays the life stories of each person, and what they were doing up to that point. J-squad knows one thing–Cage is a deserter. They won’t follow him, but they will follow the Angel of Verdun.

The squad pilfers a quadcopter that night and flies to Paris. The City of Light is dead. The Eiffel Tower is a wreck, and much of the city’s streets are flooded. The Mimics notice the human ship as it flies over the city and attack it. The ship is armed on both sides, and humans shoot at everything, but the ship crashes by the Arc de Triomphe, a few hundred yards west of the Louvre, the Omega’s nest.

J-squad files out of the copter. Two guys set off to distract Mimic attention. They stand by a gas tanker and, as Cage recommended before, take one (each) for the team. The explosion lights up the sky. Just then Cage and Vrataski start the engines of the copter and blast toward the museum. only two engines work, so it won’t fly, but they’re enough to splash across the oddly flooded streets and into I.M. Pei’s pyramid. Hey, Cage, there’s a lot of Mimics covered in glass down there!

Cage does some great swimming work to reach the Omega’s spinning Ball of Knowledge and Time Travel. As two Alphas chase him, he drops five grenades into it. The explosion kills the Omega, Vrataski, the Alphas, and Cage.

Except it doesn’t. Cage wakes up, not at Heathrow like he did a thousand times, but on the helicopter taking him to Trafalgar Square and UDF headquarters. Except the war is over. For some reason they have withdrawn all over Europe. Cage remembers what he did, and Vrataski and J-squad are also alive.

Jokes (3/4)

Tom Cruise is not funny. Give him a funny character, though, and he will make you laugh. Look at Les Grossman from Tropic Thunder, perhaps the best comedic cameo in this century.

Bill Cage is not a funny character, but his situation is funny. He dies hundreds, maybe a thousand, times. Groundhog Day is a classic comedy because it’s a comedy. Edge, using the same concept, teetered on boredom with every scene. Luckily, it’s funny enough to totter the right way.

The funniest scenes occur in the Heathrow training facility. Cage begs not to be shot, despite breaking his leg, his neck, or something else. He never breaks his libido, though, asking Rita if she’s tried to transfer her curse like an STD. Rita shoots Cage often, and probably relishes it.

I can’t leave without mentioning Bill Paxton. Making a career of smarmy guys lends comedic credence to any role he takes, and his turn as Master Sergeant Farell is no exception. Farell, a battle enthusiast, spouts cliches and demands the best from everyone in his unit less they all suffer. His aphorisms ring patriotic in the first scene. After a dozen or so days, he begins to ring hollow, as if a computer was spitting out inspirational statements. Granted, most of the characters living each reset day as a new day act stupidly (from the viewer’s perspective), but only Farell makes you laugh.

Setting (1/4)

You don’t need a history degree to recognize parallels between the movie and real life. The film was released on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and of course the movie’s invasion fleet crosses the English Channel to attack Normandy, though the beaches are depicted as wide and welcoming, not the coarse-grained encliffed sands of Omaha, Utah, Sword, Juno, and Gold. Very little about the beaches evokes France. The scenes behind enemy lines do instead, as Cage and Vrataski venture to vacation homes and country villas.

Commentary (2/2)

I don’t know if the filmmakers meant anything by placing the nexus of alien military intelligence beneath a French art museum other than it made a recognizable location. But if they did, what a great joke.

The Mimics invaded Earth on a meteor that crashed in Germany. Slowly they spread across the continent, right to its western edges. The humans reinvade Europe at Normandy five years after the initial outbreak. Five years, Normandy invasion, spread from Germany. Ring any bells? One newscaster, in the opening montage, claims that the Mimics appear to “anticipate our actions.”

Edge reminds viewers how the Allied powers felt on the eve of Operation Overlord in 1944. The Nazis had made Europe into a Fortress, and only a massive attack on the French coastline could break their hold. The Soviets had yet to make their eastern breakthrough, and when they did the American and British public knew or cared little about it. The Nazis, in 1944, seemed as invincible as the Mimics in whatever year Edge takes place.

The plan to invade Europe is codenamed Operation Downfall, which was the American name for the proposed invasion of Japan at World War II’s end.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

The movie’s most interesting statement is making a woman the most hardcore fighter on Earth.

Others

  • (-3) The tagline for Edge, which appeared on the posters, was “Live. Die. Repeat.” Great tagline. So great, in fact, that many people thought that was the movie’s title. It should have been.
  • (1) Brendan Gleeson’s face when Cage tries to back out of the imbed order.
  • (-2) Camera work. The camera shooting the invasion scene shakes too much. It’s not on Bourne levels, but the images disorient.

Summary (35/68): 51%

Edge of Tomorrow was well reviewed. A Tom Cruise action movie, it should have been a hit or moderate success. The best we can say is that it did not fail. The movie didn’t fail, just the American people.

How many times have casual moviegoers, late night hosts, cartoonists, and your aunts and uncles decried the “lack of ideas” in Hollywood? Should Hollywood be blamed? They gave us an original (for cinema) story, a cool premise with strong action, and Tom Cruise, and we let it finish in 33rd place at the box office for the year.

The next year we got a fifth Mission: Impossible film: a movie with a cool premise, strong action, and Tom Cruise, and it earned nearly double what Edge earned and about 20 spots higher on the gross chart. This is why we can’t have new things, America.

Next time someone says Hollywood is out of ideas, ask them if they saw Edge and M:I 5. Their answers will tell you a lot about them.