December 01, 2014

Groundhog D-Day

Take Groundhog Day and Independence Day and mash them together and you've got Edge of Tomorrow.

Based on All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, a smarmy Army PR flack (Tom Cruise) ticks off the wrong people and gets shipped to the front a day before a big invasion of France. Europe's been overrun by marauding aliens that fell from the sky. Great Britain is next.

He promptly gets killed and immediately starts living his life over again from 24 hours earlier. After dying several times in succession, he hooks up with a veteran warrior who's experienced the same phenomenon. Together they set out to track down the Big Bad destroying life-as-we-know-it.

The G.I. Jane (Emily Blunt) is called the "Angel of Verdun" and the movie begins with a modern-day Normandy landing. There's a brief graphic of the alien takeover of Europe that looks an awful lot like German troop movements circa 1939.

These nods to WWI/II help turn Edge of Tomorrow more into a war caper movie like Where Eagles Dare or The Guns of Navarone, where the heroes infiltrate enemy territory and destroy the big gun or the secret command center or whatever.

(In any case, didn't you always wonder what was really hiding under that goofy glass pyramid at the Louvre? Art? Ha!)

None of this gets belabored because when you're being that obvious, there's no need to point out the obvious. Motivations don't much matter. That's the convenient thing about fighting Nazis (and other monsters): they're just bad, no complicated moralizing or rationalizations required.

I give director Doug Liman high marks for not explaining anything that doesn't need explaining. Comic book movies should stop trying to be anything but comic book movies and own the genre proudly. No need to pad on thirty more minutes scrambling about for "substance" when there isn't any.

I mean, in too many movies, this is what the actual entertainment boils down to.

So nobody takes themselves any more seriously than they need to, and the mostly bloodless techno-violence is leavened by a pervasive dry wit that is honestly funny at times and keeps any potential dreariness at bay.

Nevertheless, Edge of Tomorrow taps into so many well-worn S.F. memes that you could easily sum up the whole screenplay in a half-hour Twilight Zone episode (and Rod Serling could pack in a bunch more substance to boot).

But it does the same-only-different very well. Cruise has this kind of role down pat, and he and Blunt strike the right chords together. Granted, they're playing the same trick on the audience that Groundhog Day does, portraying a "developing" relationship that is entirely one-sided.

And come to think about it, the same trick as the ending of Oblivion, another Tom Cruise post-apocalyptic SF actioner (though done not nearly as well; for starters, it takes itself too seriously and doesn't adequately set up the happy-ending payoff).

Big deal. Why quibble about narrative consistency when the big climax and crowd-pleasing denouement tie everything up with a nice big bow? Edge of Tomorrow is a feel-good actioner whose only real message is that war in the future will also be hell but still a lot of fun to watch.

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