Tom Cruise's Latest Sci-Fi Flick Might Seem Like a Flop, But It's Actually a Hoot
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On the face of things, Edge of Tomorrow looks like a perfectly conventional science fiction epic starring Tom Cruise, and on one level that's exactly what it is. But there are multiple levels at work here, and like any good video game you must fight through to the end to find out whether it was worth playing.
I wasn't planning on seeing the film, but it's one of those rare creatures that people tell other people to go and see. Most folks describe it as Groundhog Day meets War of the Worlds, and really, what's not to love about that infernal combo?
Let's set the scene. It's end of days yet again. This time, it's an unstoppable army of tentacle aliens called Mimics that have invaded Earth. The creatures, like the Martians or Triffids of old, have little on their squiggly minds except human annihilation. Having overrun central Europe, they begin marching towards the coast of France to launch an invasion of old Blighty. All of this backstory is told in a blitzkrieg of news clips and televised press conferences, featuring a press officer by the name of Major William Cage, played by everyone's favourite bit of teeth and hair Tom Cruise. Major Cage's job, which he is extremely good at, is to sell the war effort, convince young men and women to do their duty for God and country, and walk into the buzzsaw. Like any good pitchman, Cage is 90 per cent bullshit, with a nice sheen of oily charm and a smart uniform. (Think Don Draper in a science fiction adventure.)
So far, it's been almost a complete rout, but luckily the humans have a nifty new weapon that allows them to do battle with the whirligig aliens. Automated exoskeletons (essentially giant robot suits) let soldiers clump about, shooting anything that slithers. The allied forces are marshalling their own massive counterattack under the leadership of one Sgt. Rita Vrataski, a.k.a. the Full Metal Bitch, a bronzed Valkyrie played by Emily Blunt. Blunt brings yogic poise to the role and a certain coolness of tone. A female version of Steve McQueen, not quite, but she's got the stuff, all right. Rita earned her other nickname (the "Angel of Verdun") by leading one of the few human victories against the aliens at, you guessed it, Verdun.
If the overtones of another large-scale invasion are beating loudly in your ears, it's intentional, as the film was launched on the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The echoes hang heavy over the action, imbuing the film's rather goofy premise with a weird form of gravitas. But before we get to the beach landing and the bloodshed yet to come, the setup, characters and narrative logic must be established.
War is hell, over and over
In a meeting with a grim army general (played by dour Brendan Gleeson), Cage is informed that he's being sent to the front, along with the first wave of troops, to capture the glory of the invasion. After a bunch of charming entreaties, veiled threats, and subsequent fleeing fail, Cage finds himself branded a deserter. He is stripped of his rank and consigned to a group of misfits called J-Squad, under the watchful eye of one Master Sgt. Farrell (played with relish by good old Bill Paxton). The invasion is scheduled for the following day, and things are ramping up. Cage makes every effort to escape his fate; displaying a full arsenal of weasel tricks, he shucks and jives, talks like a carny on speed, and grins like there's no tomorrow. Unfortunately for him there are plenty of tomorrows, innumerable amounts actually, and that is essentially the entire premise of the film.