“Edge of Tomorrow”
Practice Makes Almost Perfect
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
Set in that quasi-present future where technology has advanced but politics, alas, has not, director Doug Liman’s “Edge of Tomorrow” is a nifty anti-war movie disguised as a summer blockbuster. Indeed, it’s laden with all the compulsory special effects. But Tom Cruise’s engaging performance separates the kaleidoscopic action from the usual genre chaff that bombards the screen this time of year. He wittily leads the charge as Major William Cage, a metaphoric variation on Ferdinand the Bull. He’d rather not fight, but…
The common man tossed into extraordinary circumstances, it was the economic downturn and resultant failure of his ad agency that prompted Cage to join the army and wield his P.R. talents up the ranks. All well and good. However, when some crazy glitch in orders courtesy of gung-ho General Brigham (Brian Gleeson) comes through at precisely the time he gets enveloped in a time loop, the war is his to win or lose.
Oh, it’s not as hard to follow as it sounds, or as I had feared. You just grok what you can, don’t overly fret the anomalies and heartily buy into the notion that one can relive a portion of their life over and over, a la “Groundhog Day” (1993). Only in this case, the redux is deadly serious….a fight for survival against an invading alien race, arguably of a higher intelligence. They’re called Mimics, and they arrived by asteroid, accursed beasts.
Heightening the fear and repulsiveness factor, these are rather ugly suckers…sort of a combination eel/octopus varmint and, of course, commanded by one central brain. So there’s that totalitarian thing going on, too. But perhaps the aliens’ scariest attribute is a psycho-biological ability to control the déjà vu phenomenon at the center of this film’s story line, and thereby monkey with your thought processes.
Yep, it’s that old mind control thing the guy in the gym whirlpool was telling you about the other day…how They are monitoring us. Except that he was referring to our government.
Of course, that’s part of the tale’s not so hidden allegory. You see, the aliens apparently have no constitutional laws against the practice. It’s just the DNA code written into their survival instinct, not unlike a virus that mutates against every attack. Or, that’s merely what the Mimics have programmed me to think.
Naturally, it takes our likeable protagonist a few times around the plot’s mulberry bush before he gets hip to the assailant’s modus operandi. But the big epiphany, which facilitates romantically smart chemistry, comes when, reenacting the same battlefield reverie for the umpteenth time, Major Cage has the honor of running into Sgt. Rita Vrataski, the “Angel of Verdun.” She’s the heroine whose exploits he so successfully publicized before being inexplicably impressed into duty at the front.
“Come see me after you wake up,” urges his militaristic antithesis. Thus follows a tutorial, aided by the scientific wizardry of Noah Taylor’s Dr. Carter, an ingeniously geeky student of how to get a step ahead of the abhorrent fiends.
Although with much nicer intent, the story’s love interest builds as insidiously as the monsters’ stealthy campaign to decimate the human race. Strip away all the techno-futuristic circumstances and it’s that time-honored fantasy: a strong-willed gal hell-bent on remaking her potential mate into the hero she sees inside him. We gladly buy in and soon have a rooting interest.
Ms. Blunt and Mr. Cruise develop the type of credible, good old-fashioned sexual tension necessary for drama to synergize with — and thus counterpoise — spectacle. A fine mix of CGI magic and retro-style, cast-of-thousands imagery, complemented by cutting edge gadgetry of the no expense spared kind, nails the wowee end of the equation.
It all serves to entertainingly remind of the original charm, imagination and social purpose of science fiction. One needn’t peer too strenuously between the assorted cataclysms, devastations and rampant comings asunder dappling the saga to spot the clever commentary on our own times. That’s easy in comparison to figuring out what the deuce is really happening here with these mind-messing Machiavellians.
Lazy decipherer that I am, I’ve got my fool’s paradise explanation and I’m sticking to it. I’m happy. Leave me alone. The movie doesn’t mind. Psst…Mr. Darwin….it’s our adaptability versus there’s, right, right?
But for folks who enjoy the bombast, one-upmanship and grandstand of unriddling such esotericism at après cinema discussions over bacon cheeseburgers at the diner, there’s good news. Manifesting its own ability to adapt to box office needs, like a reversible jacket the film assures enjoyment from both perspectives. So now, all you have to decide is whether to see “Edge of Tomorrow” today, tomorrow, or perhaps even yesterday.
“The Edge of Tomorrow,” rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Doug Liman and stars Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt and Brendan Gleeson. Running time: 113 minutes