The conceit behind "Edge of Tomorrow" is grounded in American's increasingly foggy memories of D-Day. In short, the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy by sending thousands of young men into the meat grinder of the heavily fortified Atlantic Wall in which it was a triumph simply to remain standing. Dumped into a churning surf, facing withering gunfire, grunts were lucky to survive the first minute of the invasion. "Edge of Tomorrow" works overtime to ensure we keenly feel those stomach-churning moments by playing them over and over and over again.
But to reproduce a modern D-Day requires a few alternations to the modern timeline. The aliens, known as mimics for some reason, have landed in an asteroid strike in the center of Europe (not an unheard-of possibility these days). The aliens spread out and it's up to our heroes, led by steely-eyed heroine Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), to hack her way through the enemy line in a counteroffensive. There's just one problem: the allied invasion can't possibly succeed.
The error in judgment begins with technology. The troops are outfitted with "jackets," inspired by the GE Hardiman project (a suit my father swears he saw in action on a carrier once when he was in the Navy). Overconfidence in the modern jacket's abilities leads to the very wrong assumption that minimal training is necessary. This proves all too deadly on the battlefield -- the mimics are insanely fast swirling balls of tentacles. Engaging them in any hand-to-hand combat is obviously unthinkable, but very few people actually know what it's like to fight one. Enter Major William Cage (Tom Cruise).
As it turns out, the reason she is such a vaunted hero is because Vrataski slaughtered a dozen mimics in one battle; her victory was possible only due to a very set of plot-stretching circumstances, and it's not until Cage appears that the allied forces get another shot at replicating it.
And replicating it he does. Cruise plays Cage as a coward, a personality affectation noteworthy only because it's Cruise playing against type. In typical "Choose Your Own Adventure" fashion, Cage is in a situation where no matter what he does, he's going to war. He learns to eventually game the system, and he and Vrataski share a secret with just one day to make a difference.
Two themes run throughout the film: heroism is a team effort, and love is about shared experiences. The grunts that go into battle with Cage eventually become a key part of saving the world. And the center of the film is as much about the relationship between Cage and Vrataski as it is about winning the war. To Cruise's credit, he conveys Cage's emotional states more with his eyes than his words, from steely-eyed determination to murderous rage to tender affection. For a film about war, "Edge of Tomorrow" finds its heart in those quiet moments when Cage struggles mightily to keep Vrataski alive despite the knowledge she will die a hundred times over.
By the time Bill Paxton shows up, it truly is "game over." Only in this game you can save first. A fascinating film marred slightly by its tidy ending.
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