As I left the movie theater after seeing Edge of Tomorrow, the exciting new Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt sci-fi action film, I saw a young hipster snissing the plot to a group of his friends. “Snissing” is a new word I just invented: a portmanteau combining ‘snark’ and ‘dissing.’ Snarkily dismissing? Snissing. Your assignment is to use it in at least three conversations this week: I’m hoping it catches on.
For some reason, this movie seems to attract snissers. Grantland.com’s review was a sniss. Salon’s review snissed the film. It’s got a 89% positive score on Rottentomatoes.com, but those positive reviews were all of them pretty snissy. Yeah, it’s a good movie, these critics all agree. But it’s a Tom Cruise movie. How good can it be? He’s sooooo tiresome. The sculpted abs, the toothy grin, the way his eyes narrow in intensity. Plus his religious beliefs are comical. But, yeah, it’s a pretty good flick. For a Tom Cruise movie. Sniss sniss sniss.
I’ll grant that it’s a summer action movie. It’s fast and fun and exciting and inventive, but hardly profound. But I enjoyed it immensely, and so did my wife, and so did the couple from our ward who we chatted with afterwards. The premise is astonishingly imaginative, and the movie looks great, and it moves and the action sequences are tremendous, beautifully staged and shot and edited.
Cruise plays a guy named Cage, a public relations officer for American armed forces, sort of their go-to guy for TV appearances, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson tends to be for any TV program talking about science. The world has joined together to fight an alien attack which has essentially conquered Europe. The aliens–metallic squid-like things, which bury themselves and then come whirring out of the ground, real scary–seem able to anticipate mankind’s every move–forces are generally even, but the aliens appear to way ahead of us in terms of strategy and tactics. Apparently, Cruise’s television appearances have royally ticked off American General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), and Cruise/Cage has been busted down to private and is being sent to Normandy, where the plan is to reenact WWII–invade France and open a second front.
Cage doesn’t even know how to turn off the safety of his weapon. But he straps on these big framelike combat suits, and stumbles into battle. Where he is, quite predictably, killed. But he kills an alien before dying, and is sloshed with alien blood. And then he dies. And then, Cage . . . resets.
That’s the central conceit of the movie. Every time Cage dies, he gets to reset time, travel back 24 hours to the day before his deployment. But every time, he remembers what happened in all his previous deployments, and he learns more each time. He stays alive a little longer–is able to keep his squad mates alive a little longer too. He becomes a better soldier. That’s why the aliens are winning–they have this talent too, and only passed it on to Cage inadvertently. But he’d better use it sensibly, because mankind is in big trouble.
It’s been compared to Groundhog Day, that classic 1993 Harold Ramis comedy, with Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. I’d compare it to that, yes, but also to Starship Troopers, not the movie but the classic Heinlein novel–we can see it in the battle armor the soldiers wear, and in the camaraderie of the small squad our hero fights with. But really what it’s like is a video game. Learning a new video game, you get used to seeing your character die. And you learn more about how to win every time it resets.
Cage meets, soon enough, Rita (Emily Blunt), a sort of legendary super-soldier, who, it turns out, once had the same power he has. Getting drenched in alien blood is the key, it turns out. But you do have to reset every time your character fails. If you are merely wounded–especially if you get a blood transfusion–you lose the go-back-in-time superpower. So as Rita teaches Cage how to fight better, he becomes repeatedly injured, and every time he’s hurt, she shoots him in the head–resets him. So we get all these shots of Emily Blunt shooting Tom Cruise in the head. It’s pretty funny, in a dark kind of way. And that’s one of the things the movie has going for it–it’s really very funny, at times.
But the invasion scenes, all sort of futuristic versions of the actual WWII battle of Normandy beach, they’re really quite stunning. Nothing will ever equal the extraordinary verisimilitude of Stephen Spielberg’s Normandy scenes in Saving Private Ryan. But this movie comes close. The difference is a matter of tone. These battle scenes are terrifying and exciting and fearful, but they do involve space aliens–they never do seem entirely real. Still, we get a sense of the horror of war. And it’s a war that mankind must win–our survival as a species depends on it. And we’re losing. This is a very high stakes scenario.
Emily Blunt is tremendous. We see in her face the weariness of a long-time soldier, the hopelessness of losing battle after battle. Every time Cage resets, he goes back to see her, and every time, she’s balanced in a kind of horizontal handstand, muscles taut and face shining with effort. Small wonder he falls in love with her. But she can’t possibly fall for him, of course–every time he meets her is essentially a first meeting ever, for her. Plus, every ‘date’ ends with her shooting him in the head. So, sure, it’s Hollywood, romance blooms, but it gets increasingly one-sided. He’s in love with her, and she literally doesn’t know he exists.
Of course it’s a Tom Cruise vehicle. But isn’t Tom Cruise, in a way, a perfect movie star? He works hard. He produces in addition to acting, and only chooses scripts that play to his strengths as an actor. He promotes the films like the thorough professional he is. I could care less about his religious beliefs. For me, Tom Cruise movies are the one dependable part of Hollywood. They’re always action movies, they’re always very well made, and exciting. He’s in terrific shape, and he has excellent comic timing, and he’s better than almost anyone (except maybe Jason Stratham) at action sequences. He gives good value. I feel confident entrusting him with my entertainment dollar.
Of course his movies aren’t likely to change anyone’s lives for the better. They’re escapist entertainment. But they’re well done escapist entertainment. I admire professionalism, and I admire craftsmanship. Enough with the snissing. Edge of Tomorrow is an outstanding movie, a movie that accomplishes everything it tries to accomplish. It’s exciting, genuinely entertaining. I had a great time at this movie, and I think you will too.