' ' Cinema Romantico: Edge of Tomorrow

Monday, September 29, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Sarah Vowell once posited that America likes watching Tom Cruise be put through the wringer - and she wrote this in January 2000, long before he infamously besmirched Oprah's fine upholstery. This hypothesis irrefutably holds up when considering "Edge of Tomorrow", Doug Liman's re-imagining of Harold Ramis's elegant time loop comic masterwork "Groundhog Day" as a futuristic "D-Day" where the human race is made to confront to an alien army of tentacled Mimics. They are called this, I reckon, because they are in the process of mimicking the Nazis' European aggressions. Who says you can't repeat the past?

The Cruise version of vain weatherman Phil Connors is Major William Cage, an unctous public relations man whose interest is maintaining and propagating the military brand in the midst of all-out war rather than getting involved in anything literally militaristic. Which is why when his superior officer (Brendan Gleeson, dryly hysterical) assigns him to the front lines of Normandy 2.0, he grins and tries to bribe his way out. Instead, he's arrested, re-cast as a deserter in an officer's uniform and thrown in with a pack of grunts. One minute he's trading exposition with Erin Burnett on CNN, the next he's in handcuffs on an army base tarmac getting kicked in the guts. He's Tom Cruise reduced to our level. Sure, he'll wind up the hero, he has to, after all, but he'll crawl through the mud to get there.

Truly there is something satirically subversive in seeing Tom Cruise, hero, strapped into a Mini Me version of a Jaeger and not know how to turn off the "safety". Even better is seeing Bill Paxton as a mustachoied Kentuckian barking orders and insults at our leading man, as if we are momentarily allowed to imagine an alternate reality where Paxton, not Cruise, is the box office luminary. And "Edge of Tomorrow" is all about indulging in alternate reality.

At the onset of the invasion, one in which the commanding officers in all their hubris have miscalculated and left themselves woefully vulnerable, Cage is killed. But not quite. Rather than saying 'sup to St. Peter, he wakes up back on the army tarmac, being kicked in the guts, his own personal "I Got You, Babe". He's destined, it seems, to re-live the invasion and his own death over and over and over, etc., for the rest of eternity. Until, that is, he meets Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) on the battlefield, a soldiering celebrity, which no doubt would have caused the notable feminist John Wayne to throw a monotone hissy hit. She is nicknamed The Angel Of Verdun, another military history nod and an embodiment of her role as Cage's guiding spirit. She also lived through this endless invasion loop, and has deciphered the secret - by killing an Alpha Mimic, a person gains the power to re-set time. And if they can re-set the time, they can get a leg up on the enemy.

The film is based on a book which itself was based on a video game, and this is extremely evident in the evolution of Cage's journey. He garners strength, physically and mentally, builds his combat skills, and incessantly re-strategizes with Rita. Each time he dies, he begins a "level" anew, until he conquers that level and moves to the next one. It cleverly allows the film to refresh in the moment, even as its overarching narrative is fairly boilerplate. But where "Edge of Tomorrow" significantly diverges from its Bill Murray forefather is in its protagonist's trajectory. If Phil Connors' arc was one of personal redemption then William Cage's is the more commonplace Cruise-esque Becoming The World's Savior. Which is why even in this wearying loop, even with the obligatory second act comedown in advance of the climax, there's a bit too much Spunky Explorer to the performance.

Blunt is the true counterpart to Murray, the film's secret weapon, giving it gravity, suggesting something more Shakespearean than Hollywood. Cruise may be bordering on the Edge of Tomrrow, but Blunt is mired in, to quote the prospective novel of "Sideways'" Miles Raymond, The Day After Yesterday. Yes, she's an action heroine, and yes, Liman's camera repeatedly ogles her in the midst of musclebound yoga as her respective Sonny & Cher trigger, and yes, the script grafts on some blah attempt at romance. But her performance is intense, meditative, emitting a soulfulness I wish more turns in would-be blockbusters would have the guts to try. The character's exhaustion is palpable and suggestive of a different movie lurking just underneath this very good one.

Every attempt made by Cage to "get to know" Rita, she rebuffs, a subtle reminder amidst all the effects and bouts of heroism that no matter how much time we spend in the company of another person, we never really get to know them at all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review and thought on this movie, Nick. I really enjoyed Edge of Tomorrow way more than I expected to. It makes sense that it was somewhat based off a video game (with a book in the middle there!), because that's what it felt like when watching. Emily Blunt was fantastic in this film.