Edge of Tomorrow (Warner Bros., PG-13)

film edge-of-tomorrow 75Tom Cruise plays a coward who only stumbles into heroism for lack of other choices.

 

 

 

film edge-of-tomorrow 500

At this point in history, it would be fair to say that even though Tom Cruise’s official job title is actor, he’s really a professional fake badass. When he’s in a movie where tough-guy stuff is being done, Cruise is the head tough guy. And when he’s in a movie that needs a Regular Joe to suddenly—and willingly—take up the mantle of hero, Cruise is always that particular Joe.

Well, welcome to the new age of cinema, folks: when Tom Cruise plays a coward who only stumbles into heroism for lack of other choices.

Aliens have invaded Earth, and the fight is not swinging our way. Major William Cage (Cruise) is essentially the U.S. Army’s top PR executive: If you need a stirring quote about the war effort, he’s your guy. Cage is sent to England, near the center of the action, and ordered by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to take a film crew to the front in a day. Never having seen a lick of battle and fearing for his life, Cage tries to run, but quickly finds himself stripped of rank and enlisted as a front-line private.

Now, once you get over the absurdity of punishing a 50-something military deserter by forcing him into combat (and a difficult-to-control battle suit) the very next day, with no thought as to how many other soldiers his cowardice and lack of training are likely to endanger, you can feel free to have some fun. Because Edge of Tomorrow does get right to the fun.

As expected, Cage is killed within minutes of hitting the front. But when the blood of a screeching, tentacled, super-fast alien freak covers his face as he dies, Cage wakes up to discover that the past day has been reset. He remembers everything, including dying, but no one around him is the wiser. Cage decides to take advantage of his battlefield sighting of super-soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) to tell her what he knows and try winning the war.

I freely admit to having a lot of perverse fun in Edge of Tomorrow watching Cage try and fail to get further along in the day. Dying again and again, starting the day from scratch over and over, it’s like he’s stuck in an epic but diabolical video game. Cage is killed not just by aliens, but also smashed by a falling troop transport ship, hit by a truck, run over while still on base, and frequently shot dead by Vrataski, on purpose, to force a reset whenever he’s seriously wounded in training. The movie beats Cage up with zeal.

The filmmakers do a good job of showing the same things from different points of view, or having Cage change things as he begins to memorize the words and actions of those around him, so the repetition never gets boring. And just when you start to wonder if he’s ever going to get past a certain point, a small victory keeps him going.

A favorite moment from the movie comes early on. After Cage tells Gen. Brigham that he has no intention of obeying his order to visit the front lines, the general calmly walks over to him. In that instance, Cage eyes Brigham with a definite fear of the future on his face; I don’t remember the last time Cruise looked so terrified on screen. It was great then, and throughout the film, to see him be unsure for a change.

This might be the key to Cruise’s future as a film star: for him to give us fewer natural-born badasses, and more regular guys drafted into badassery. | Adrienne Jones

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