By Rob Cox
---- — FROM THE DEN AT WOLF THEATRES — Until “Edge of Tomorrow,” comparing a movie to a videogame was largely an indictment. Such an accusation usually refers to visual/special-effects overkill wherein viewers are left feeling exhausted from a non-stop barrage of explosions, “epic,” larger-than-life battles of good versus evil, and CGI imagery.
Couple all that sensory heavy-handedness with a lack of cohesive, resonant storytelling, and viewers are left feeling disconnected – almost as if they’re watching someone play a gigantic videogame instead of a feature film.
Ironically, “Tomorrow” isn’t based on a videogame, but it nonetheless wholly embraces the notion of film as videogame. In fact, I can’t imagine any film coming closer to BEING an actual videogame rendered as a Hollywood blockbuster.
Oh great, you might be thinking, another summer, another storyless Hollywood stinker dressed up in razzle-dazzle to lull viewers into a computer-generated, mind-numbing stupor of banality – but not so fast. “Tomorrow” is the first film I can recall for which videogame comparisons AREN’T a snub.
Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage, a public relations guru for an international military coalition waging war against a force of grotesque outerspace invaders.
Early on, Cage balks at a command to join the troops on the beaches of France for a major, potentially tide-turning battle against the aliens, and attempts to blackmail his commanding general (Brendan Gleeson) into retracting the assignment. That leads to his being stripped of rank, bumped down to Private and shipped to the front lines in handcuffs, where he’s placed under the not-so-tender command of Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton).
On the night before the battle, Farell, who’s been informed that Cage is a coward and a deserter, places him with a ragtag group of misfits who give new meaning to the term “bullet stoppers.” Cage’s group will hit the beaches as part of the first line of attack, with Cage being given less than 12 hours to become a soldier and prepare for combat.
As commanded, Cage hits the beaches the following morning, but things don’t go as might be predicted. To be sure, the battle is disastrous for Cage (and for his fellow Earthlings), but before he’s killed, he experiences a bout of beginners luck and kills an “Alpha” alien, a rare member of the species with the ability to manipulate time.
The Alpha’s blood splashes over Cage’s face and body, absorbing into his system and granting him the ability – albeit inadvertently – to “reset” the day. He thus goes directly from death on the battlefield to waking up the previous day, again in handcuffs, again in Farell’s unforgiving custody, with every event playing out exactly as it did the first time around.
And so it will go for Cage for the bulk of the film: death on the battle field; reset; death on the battlefield; reset. With each death and reset, Cage works to learn something new to help him and his fellow Earthlings defeat the alien invaders, who are on the verge of conquering humanity thanks to their ability to manipulate and reset time and thus anticipate the future.
Only one other person on Earth understands what’s happening to Cage: Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who, at one point, also inadvertently acquired Cage’s curse of reliving the same day over and over. Cage seeks her out during one of his resets, leading to a continual cycle where he goes to her every new reset, re-introduces himself, catches her up on the previous loops and works with her to figure out how to defeat the alien invaders based on what’s been learned during previous resets.
That setup might sound tedious, but Director Doug Liman and Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie do an admirable job of preventing things from bogging down and becoming overly repetitive.
One aspect of “Tomorrow” that puzzled me, was the fact that its battle sequences on the beaches of France were visually reminiscent of World War II movies such as “Saving Private Ryan,” and of real-life footage from the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion.
There’s nothing inherently offensive or immoral about the use of such a visual homage, I suppose, but it seemed misplaced in a film about invading aliens from outerspace battling human troops bedecked in futuristic, exoskeleton-like battle suits and ray guns; because although “Tomorrow” is certainly an entertaining piece of science fiction, no one will ever mistake it for a meaningful treatise on war, human nature or the consequences of violence.
That small contradiction in tone is easily overlooked, however, and has no bearing on the film’s overall entertainment value – which is considerable. In the final analysis, “Tomorrow” is well-written, clever and engaging; it boasts impressive special effects, as well, with terrifying alien-creature creations that would be at home in a Ridley Scott film.
With its repeating-time-loop story, “Tomorrow” earns a spot among a handful of other, similarly-plotted films (with 1993’s “Groundhog Day” being the best-remembered) that successfully turn an inherently redundant narrative into an entertaining, unpredictable piece of filmmaking. “Tomorrow” diverges from this already-narrow pack, though, with its embrace of the gaming genre, a category of filmmaking with – to put it mildly – an underwhelming track record.
“Edge of Tomorrow” is a big-screen videogame in which most moviegoers – especially sci-fans – will be all-too-glad to participate.
Rating: Howl (***)
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and language
Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011; firstname.lastname@example.org