If At First You Don’t Succeed…

It’s hard to believe that Edge of Tomorrow didn’t fare better at the box office over the weekend. I know The Fault in Our Stars was a big draw, but Edge is one of the best blockbuster action films of the summer. I’m anticipating, unlike Godzilla, that it will benefit from strong word of mouth in upcoming weeks.

In the future, a seemingly indestructible alien force invades Earth, specifically random parts of Europe. As the infection spreads, it threatens to spill over into Great Britain and then further west to the United States. Lt. Col. Bill Cage (Tom Cruise), a U. S. Army Public Relations man, has been assigned to cover the United Defense Force’s counter-attack across the English channel into France, a futuristic D-Day if you will. Leading the attack will be none other than Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the Angel of Verdun, so nick-named because of her heroic victory over the alien forces there.

Vrataski (Emily Blunt) and Cage (Tom Cruise) survey an abandoned trailer park for an escape route.

When Cage is suddenly conscripted into battle, we see just how hopeless the fight is…until he kills one of the aliens and is infected by its blood. This embues him with the ability to relive that day over and over again, so long as he dies before the end of the day. He gradually learns to avoid the attacks that kill him day after day. Although no one believes him, Vrataski does because she too had those powers once, but lost them at Verdun when she survived the day. Vrataski teaches Cage what he must do: locate and destroy the Omega, the alien life force that animates all the drones. While Cage dies over and over again, Vrataski leads him closer to the end.

Almost everything about Edge of Tomorrow works to perfection. I could have done without the ending (not going to spoil it just yet), but the previous 106 minutes or so weren’t overshadowed. The film benefits from strong performances by both Cage and Blunt, the latter of whom is especially surprising in this her first big action/sci-fi film. Cruise gives a return to form as a bit of an asshole P.R. everyman thrust into a situation totally beyond his capabilities. Unlike so many time travel films (most recently, X-Men: Days of Future Past), the plot device works brilliantly throughout the film…until the very end. The special effects and battle scenes are impressive, which left me wishing I could play the movie. This is part of its greatest appeal to this nerd.

Vrataski (Emily Blunt) attacks one of the alien drones with her oversized sword.

Edge of Tomorrow represents the video-game-ization of film, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. Scenes from films like Old Boy and The Amazing Spider-Man can be traced back to old 8-bit side-scrollers and Mirror’s Edge, respectively. There is more than a little similarity between Edge of Tomorrow and the X-Box One hit, Titanfall. But much more than video game aesthetics are at play in Edge (even though Blunt’s weapon of choice–a giant sword–looks like something out of the Final Fantasy series). The whole structure of video games lies at the heart of Edge of Tomorrow: the systematic attacks by the enemies, the ability to die over and over again until you overcome those systematic attacks, and a final boss that must be defeated to complete the game.

I joked that watching Edge of Tomorrow was like watching Cruise and Blunt master Mega Man or some other ridiculously hard 8-bit classic. But it really works…especially if you’re into that sort of thing. It made me think of Craig Detweiler and all the good work he has done at the intersections of film/video games and religion/theology, particularly in his book, Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Games with God. It also made me reflect again on video games (and films) as sources of moral and ethical instruction. In this case (BIG SPOILER), it has to do with why we’re not allowed to experience finality or a “real” death in so many summer blockbusters. For all intents and purposes, Cage should die along with Vrataski during their final assault on the alien Omega. However, when he kills the creature, he is infected by its energy and transported back to the day before the attack to learn that the alien invaders have lost the ability to fight. I guess some filmmakers can’t leave dead enough alone.

This is, of course, a small complaint for a film that is so entertaining, clever, and funny from start to (almost) finish. I wish I could go back in time and see it again for the first time. I could actually walk out at just the right time to make it a perfect film!

Edge of Tomorrow (113 mins.) is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive material and is in theaters everywhere.