Edge of Tomorrow
The best part of this unexpectedly intelligent SF movie is right at the first. Tom Cruise is a public relations flak drafted into the army which is fighting a deadly alien invasion. No combat training, and not the slightest desire to have any. Suddenly a general decides Tom needs to write his copy from the front lines. He reminds me of James Garner in The Americanization of Emily. Cruise can play a wheeler-dealer part like that, going all the way back to Risky Business. The next thing he knows he’s put into a barracks with a lot of combat-hardened vets and introduced as a coward and a deserter. The big question is, will he even leave the barracks alive? But soon after that he’s dropping into a meat-grinder on what looks like Omaha Beach. Shades of Saving Private Ryan, but with super-fast, super-deadly aliens that seem to consist of about fifty metallic tentacles. He is very quickly killed …
What we have here is basically Groundhog Day with guns and aliens and powered exoskeletons. Every time he dies he wakes up again on the tarmac where the invasion force is being assembled. Every time he gets a little farther up the beach, because he knows what’s about to happen next. Every time he’s a little better at fighting. Eventually he meets Emily Blunt, the great hero of this conflict, who almost single-handedly defeated the “mimics” at a battle at Verdun. And why was she so good at combat? Because she also has come unstuck in time, and has lived it over and over, while we, stuck in time, see only that she went into battle as an ordinary soldier and came out of it Audie Murphy in lipstick.
It’s a great premise, and for once they don’t totally fuck it up. We quickly adjust to the resets, so they can skip vast amounts of events and we still understand how it all progresses. At one point she is training him, and time after time he fucks up and is so badly injured he can’t go on. So … she shoots him in the head. Next time she meets him, he will be just a little bit better …
Which is where the one real flaw happens. Remember in Groundhog Day, Bill Murray presents himself to a piano teacher, a man who doesn’t know a white key from a black key. Teach me, he says. Then, at the end, he is an accomplished jazz improviser. And the piano teacher is proud as can be. That’s my boy, she says. Only … from her POV, Bill came to her fully educated. She’s only gone through that day once, where he has come to her many, many times, each time as a better player. She couldn’t have felt all that much pride in him. He was already Jellyroll Morton when she first met him.
In this one, at some point she tells him she’s through training him, he’s ready. (She has lost the ability to reset, so she meets him anew every day and he has to explain that, yes, I have what you had). This is before she takes him out to the training area to see what he can do. So she can’t know he’s that good.
I don’t really see any way out of this paradox, but other than that, they’ve thought it all through pretty carefully, and I was willing to ignore it, just as I was with Bill Murray. The movie proceeds at a breakneck pace, and only gets a bit too much (as usual) in the big finish, and a bit of a cheat at the end. But I have to say I enjoyed it.
A word about powered exoskeletons. As far as I know, they were invented by Robert A. Heinlein in his novel Starship Troopers. I have never quite believed in them (they would need an awesome power source), but visually, it’s an attractive idea. And they’ve done a hell of a job with these. The damn things weighed eighty-five pounds. The actors had to do a lot of training in them. For Emily Blunt, it must have been almost like working in two gees. Between takes they had to suspend the actors from chains to take the weight off their legs and shoulders. It took four people to help them get in and out of them. At first it took Tom Cruise thirty minutes to get, and that long to get out of one. With practice, they got it down to thirty seconds. Sometimes acting can be hard work.