Ground War Day

I was ambivalent about seeing the new sci-fi film Edge of Tomorrow, mostly because I thought it would suffer in comparison to the ultimate repeated day movie, Groundhog Day. Also, after Rock of Ages and Jack Reacher (not to mention Oblivion – really, please don’t mention Oblivion), my trust of Tom Cruise was about nil. But after hearing some early positive feedback, I decided to check it out. I’m glad I did.

In the near future, Earth has been invaded by a race of octopus-like creatures called Mimics who have taken over almost all of Europe. They seemed unstoppable until the battle of Verdun, in which a warrior emerged who killed hundreds of Mimics. English Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) is a modern-day Boadicea, using an exo-skeleton battle suit instead of a chariot, though she supplements her modern weaponry with a broadsword. She’s become the face of the war, a walking recruiting poster.

As the world’s forces gear up for a major counterattack, US Army Major William Cage arrives in London, where he’s been assigned to help General Bingham (Brendan Gleeson). Cage is a PR flack, with no combat training, and when Bingham tells him he’ll be embedded with the troops making the initial landings in France, Cage is horrorstricken. He tries to blackmail the general to keep away from the front, but instead the general calls for his arrest. When Cage resists he’s knocked out by a Taser (more on that later).

Cage wakes up at a staging base, handcuffed and stripped of his rank. He’s taken by Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) and assigned to a platoon for the invasion that’s 24 hours away. When the troops hit the beach, it’s a slaughter. Cage sees most of the platoon killed, and he briefly sees Sgt. Vrataski before she dies in an explosion. When a large, blue Mimic comes at Cage, he explodes a mine. He’s bathed in the Mimic’s blood just before he dies – and then he wakes up at the staging base again, 24 hours earlier. He comes to discover he’s hijacked the Mimic’s power – they’ve won the war because they can reset time and change the outcome of their battles. He also finds he’s not the first one to hijack their power.

Director Doug Liman had caused a seismic shift in thrillers when he directed The Bourne Identity in 2002, but he’d lost control of that series after having problems finishing the movie. He stayed with the thriller format with Mr. & Mrs. Smith – the movie that united Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, in more ways than one. It had its good parts, but was handicapped by a weak ending. For his next film he went with recent history, directing Fair Game about the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. With Edge of Tomorrow, Liman shows a much surer hand than at any time since his start in independent films. The movie has a wicked sense of humor as well as being a pedal-to-the-metal thriller.

The screenplay is effective, balancing both dark humor and a deep poignancy. It’s based on a 2004 Japanese science fiction novel called “All You Need Is Kill,” and was adapted for the screen by Christopher McQuarrie and the team of Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. The Butterworths wrote Fair Game, while McQuarrie wrote the modern classic The Usual Suspects. However, McQuarrie’s last three films were underwhelming: The Tourist, Jack Reacher, and Jack the Giant Slayer. Here, though, the synergy of the source material and the screenwriters has created a much better story than one would expect. I will nitpick because they used a Taser wrong – it doesn’t knock you out for an extended period of time – but I’ll forgive the writers that shortcut because of the rest of the movie.

Cruise actually acts this time out – something he manage to avoid in his last three films – and does a credible job of it. It’s fun to see when he first tries to warn Farrell and the others of what will happen on the beach, only to have the movie cut to them going into battle with Cage’s mouth duct-taped shut. Once he makes contact with Vrataski, the movie shifts to a higher gear. Blunt was on the edge of the action in The Adjustment Bureau and Looper, but here she steps center stage and is mesmerizing. She and Cruise play off each other beautifully. One criticism I had of Jack Reacher was that Rosamund Pike’s role was simply as a damsel in distress for Cruise to rescue. That’s not the case here.

Kudos to production designer Oliver Scholl as well as the Art Department and Special Effects crew for developing a look for the film that puts it firmly in the future, but only by a step or two. Combat exo-skeletons such as those featured in the film are actually being developed, and the craft used for invasion look like the next generation of the V-22 Osprey.

This is a better-than-average thriller, with enough twists and turns in the plot to keep it from being a clone of Groundhog Day. It’s worth checking out.

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