Edge of Tomorrow (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

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Major Cage isn't supposed to be on this beach, fighting aliens.  He's supposed to be back home, drumming up support for the war against the alien mimics with his thousand-watt smile.  But when he angers the wrong people he's stuck on the front lines, a prospect that seems short-lived until he is ambushed by the mimics and wakes up at the start of the day he met his death on the battlefield.  Edge of Tomorrow is directed by Doug Liman, and stars Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.

C'mere sweet cheeksJingoism is great.  We get all hopped up on the manic thrill of creating new technology whose sole purpose for existing is to turn those who are against us into a fine spread for soil.  There's the immediate pleasure of a military victory and the celebration that follows.  Jingoism is terrible.  Waste and decay filter through the land as a result of all that weapons use until countries who weren't the intended target realize the damage done to them.  Their justified revenge takes its toll on the working lower-class people who built and fired all those weapons to begin with.  Leaders see the rage of the working class, excite them with more jingoistic propaganda, and off we start again.

Live for battle.  Die in battle.  Repeat until the heat death of the universe.  Says so right there on the poster (if not in so many words).

Tom Cruise films have existed in some arrangement of this great / terrible dichotomy of jingoism since he first danced on the screen in his underwear.  His career is marked with rebels who succeed not because they continue to flaunt the system, but because they learn to buy into and manipulate the system for his own end.  If there just so happens to be an attractive blonde he can both learn from, seduce, and surpass in the meantime, all the better.

Edge of Tomorrow is effective propaganda that embraces the magnetic charm of jingoism.  Doug Liman draws from a novella, All You Need Is Kill, to stand toe-to-toe with Top Gun, that other "rebel who plays by his own rules until he buys in seduces the blonde and saves the day" film that was also propaganda for the U.S. military in the '80s.  Now Cruise is fighting our future wars for us with a masked alien threat and robot suits taking the place of a manufactured Russian invasion and fighter jets.  Computers and terrorist strikes haven't changed the face of war - it's still smiling at us with those perfect pearly whites - merely the means in how it's presented.

Blunt is captivating, but it's a bit disappointing to see such a strong performance pared down to the typical blonde mentor / love interest Cruise counterpart.

Blunt is captivating, but it's disappointing to see such a strong performance pared down to the typical blonde mentor / love interest Cruise counterpart.

This would all be nauseating if it weren't so damned energetic.  At its core, Edge of Tomorrow is everything I dislike about our national attitude when it comes to war.  The centerpiece battle is a recreation of our crowning glory of World War II, the beach invasion of Normandy, only because the Americans don't get it right the first time we can manufacture a story where the reset button on mortality can be pressed until we finally achieve glorious total victory.  The special effects are slick, recreating the dirt and splash of body fluids released through explosive battle without achieving the same kind of painful reality Edge of Tomorrow's polarized twin, Saving Private Ryan, was able to conjure.

Instead of Tom Hanks' cynical wisdom we get Cruise, quipping his way through another fight as Liman gives the audience the satisfaction of watching him grow as a warrior.  Major Cage may start the film as a propaganda combatant, but it's only as he gets more effective at killing do we get sides of him that aren't dripping with cowardice.  Pro-war propaganda is similarly distasteful, but look at those striking photos of the battle-hardened warrior princess Sergeant Vrataski (Emily Blunt), or the quick shots of Cage taking down aliens without needing to look at them.  Every ounce of energy the film musters goes toward the idea that war is cool, if you go to war you get to wear this shiny suit, and you can be the good guy.  Hurray war!

...so, god help me, it's fun.  This isn't like Gone Girl, where I sat increasingly nauseated as David Fincher shoveled every paranoid reason to suspect women down our throats.  Edge of Tomorrow is impeccably edited, especially during the many deaths of Cage where he learns another lesson about war before hitting his mortal reset button and starting over.  Saying that this is like Groundhog Day does a disservice to both films - Groundhog Day is a spiritual morality tale that would have no place for Edge of Tomorrow's taste for battle.  Edge of Tomorrow's blood lust provides an easy arc for Cage as well, getting us to like Cruise more as he becomes a better killer.  Murdering ability and likability are the same here, where the greatest tool for death and propaganda is also the runaway fan hit from Edge of Tomorrow, Blunt's Sergeant Vrataski.

While Cruise has made himself an indestructible uber-killer in his last decade of films, he can still drop the temperature of the film immediately with his icy stare.

While Cruise has made himself a charming and indestructible uber-killer in his last decade of films, he can still drop the temperature of the film immediately with his icy stare.

Vrataski is a lean killing machine who speaks entirely in one-liners and can command a room with her presence.  Compelling, and seemingly great from a feminist perspective, until we get to the parts where she has to break down and finally kiss the big murdering lug that Cage becomes.  Blunt, excellent though she is in the role, becomes this decade's Kelly McGillis (Top Gun) - just another blonde mentor figure that Cruise's character learns from, seduces, and surpasses in skill.  Embracing the war mentality means keeping things somewhat conservative, and backwards gender politics are the rule of the day here.

The other negative aspects of this jingoistic approach are filtered away quietly because that doesn't make for good propaganda, and wouldn't have made Edge of Tomorrow a better film.  Do we discuss how they wouldn't be in this mess to begin with if we didn't attack the mimics to start?  No, because effective propaganda doesn't accept blame to sidetrack the characters with unnecessary guilt - better to project it onto the alien threat (with those sneaky terrorists coming in from behind).  Do we talk about how the minority soldiers, both men and women representing, are going back to a society that will shun them when the war is over?  No, because we need to keep them, and by extension the audience, focused on all that great killing they're about to do and the glory that they could obtain.

Casting Bill Paxton as the squad leader is something of a clue for all this.  In an interview he suspected he was cast because of his work in another perennial '80s film, Aliens.  I have a sensation it's because Liman's casting personnel saw Near Dark, and how it's possible to have a creature with an impossible-to-satiate need for death be the most fun and interesting person in the film.  Edge of Tomorrow is what that person watches to get ready to charm, making you happy to lose your ethical compass to that classic Cruise grin.

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Tail - Edge of TomorrowEdge of Tomorrow (2014)

Directed by Doug Liman.
Screenplay written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth.
Starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. Despite your point about the comparison being a disservice, while watching it I thought the high concept single sentence was, “‘Groundhog Day’ meets ‘Starship Troopers’.”

    • Thank you for the comment Hal! The description is an apt one, if a bit reductive to me, and truth be told Edge of Tomorrow would make a great bridge film between the two.

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