‘Edge’ more than explosions
“Edge of Tomorrow” is one of those few movies that I wish I had not read about or even watched the trailer for before going to see it. It is a movie best seen cold, so if you are thinking about seeing it (it will be out of theaters in Lafayette soon if you haven’t gone already), I would encourage you to stop reading and make a date.
Unlike most contemporary movies, “Edge of Tomorrow” doesn’t reveal its true hook until close to thirty minutes in. This is paramount to its appeal. The setup to viscerally engage the viewer is simplistic and concise enough and successfully masks the movie as a straightforward blood-and-metal action romp in the opening half-hour.
Humans are, as ever in blockbuster cinema, at war with an alien invader (one can substitute zombies for aliens if the template should seem inadequate.) A brief introduction to robotic, military exoskeletons is given via a now almost expected news montage, priming you for the inevitable orgy of futuristic violence.
“Edge of Tomorrow,” though, winds up being refreshingly atypical in its actual scope and the implicit message it courts throughout seems particularly important for our generation. Major Cage (Tom Cruise) is a media-friendly face for the western military force (think The European Union + America) who has never been trained in combat. He is your protagonist: thoroughly green, totally unwilling and terrifically incapable of fighting.
This in and of itself is not original. Western audiences have long been presented with unqualified heroes who come to own their role as a savior through a series of staged trials. However the nature in which Cage overcomes his initial paralysis of inexperience reveals itself to be the reality of what such a feat would be like: repeated, grueling practice over a very long period of time.
After waking up at a base that an invasion is being launched from, Cage proceeds to be ridiculed, deliberately confused by his new peers, and subsequently dropped into a firefight. This is all still in the first half-hour of the movie.
There are an abundance of explosions. The camera floridly orbits descending troops who circle in the opposite direction to much visual effect. There are fast cuts and sweeping shots of destruction. The suddenness and meaningless of death is intentionally emphasized and Cage stumbles about in his highly advanced mechanical suit, completely inept, seeing the profusion of violence, the extinction of his species. Logic—actual logic, not just movie logic— dictates that he will soon die and indeed he does.
The crucial separation that “Edge of Tomorrow” makes between itself and other high-budget action movies is its treatment of power in regards to time. Audiences expect their protagonist to rapidly transform from a relatable, unknowing everyman into a world-saving demi-god.
Cage, though, is forced into continuous learning for the entire movie, dying frequently and having to start over from the same day again and again. He is allowed to do this thanks to the admittedly gimmicky time-loop plot device, but the scenes of Cage struggling, dying, constantly memorizing, developing a sort of ennui towards his goal and eventually recommitting himself will resonate with anyone who has dedicated his or herself to something difficult.
The film should also be commended for its execution of a female lead in a big-budget action movie. At no point is Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) deliberately sexualized or unfairly sidelined thanks to her being a woman. In fact, she is often more capable and purposeful than Cage, outshining him several times throughout the film. She is also not the “goal” of the movie. Cage’s motivations occasionally do shift towards her, but they do so out of a real affection he feels for her as opposed to a desire to possess her as is often the rite (and the apparent right) of the action hero.
“Edge of Tomorrow” is a smart and funny movie and it serves as a great example of the genre’s potential.
So the next time a Michael Bay movie releases and you’re leaving the theater thinking, “well what was I expecting from a movie with a bunch of explosions?” you can point to “Edge of Tomorrow” and say “that! At least something as good as that! Something that maybe doesn’t assume I’m an idiot or a closeted misogynist or that I’m hopelessly cynical!”