Calvin Lee Reeder (The Rambler) on Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow

Fatalism is a funny thing, I know I wrestle with it. I feel a teaspoon of anger when someone tells me, “Everything happens for a reason.”

Fatalism is a funny thing, I know I wrestle with it. I feel a teaspoon of anger when someone tells me, “Everything happens for a reason.” I understand what they’re saying, just don’t agree. At the same time, we’re all resigned to the matter that our time is finite if not fixed. Death comes and that’s the ball game, there’s your fate. There’s a lot to be debated in between “Everything happens for a reason” and the unavoidable. That’s probably how religion got started, and the origin of fiction might even be in there somewhere. I didn’t know Edge of Tomorrow would make me think about that stuff, but it really is everywhere you look.

Tom Cruise is cool. This is the first movie of his I’ve seen in years and I gotta say he’s pretty fun to be around for a couple hours. He also looks great; there’s something unnatural and comforting about that. Like an old pal from the ’80s that really hasn’t changed much. He was born to carry movies like this. His character, Major Cage, is a military officer who’s never seen a minute of battle. He’s some kind of press/media guru who specializes in recruiting volunteers for the war. He’s got a slimy propaganda veneer and claims to have singlehandedly recruited thousands of fighting soldiers (maybe more). Who are they fighting? Fuckin’ aliens, man. Why? Because they invaded Europe. Why? I don’t know. Neither do the other humans. That’s refreshing to me, because it seems like everyone else who ever tried to take over Europe had some kind of lame Imperialistic agenda. Not these guys, they just wreck shop and kill kill kill. This is a really big problem, and the remaining militaries (U.S. and U.K., at least) have pooled their resources and are throwing everything they have left at the alien monsters to keep them from crossing the channel and smashing up jolly ol’ England. Abruptly, Major Cage is stripped of his rank and forced into battle by a loony British General played by Brendan Gleeson. His reasons are never really clear.

Anyway, he’s Private Cage now and is forced into a sort of one-day boot camp where he meets his Master Sergeant, played by Bill Paxton. Cage begs for clemency, Master Sergeant doesn’t care and throws him in with the ragged Company J infantry squad. Before long, Cage is outfitted in a Robocop-type getup that gives soldiers super strength and is suppose to drastically improve their chances of survival. But soon we hear they’re headed for Normandy, D-Day Part 2. The soldiers are poorly trained and completely outnumbered – it’s a slaughter. The alien monsters are Ali-fast and madder than a wet hen. A mess of tentacles, teeth, slime and screech. Everyone dies.

However, Cage does manage to do a couple of cool things before they punch his ticket; he meets a beautiful woman and kills a particularly badass alien. Not a horrible way to go out. The woman, Rita Vrataski, played by Emily Blunt, is the army’s greatest soldier and has become a steadfast symbol of toughness and resolve. We see a large picture of her at the base with the words “Full Metal Bitch” scrawled in red next to her face. She’s famous. The alien is an “alpha,” super rare, and it’s very physiology has the capacity to manipulate time, I guess.

Cage gets burned up by the alpha’s toxic blood and dies horribly alongside the illusive cosmic beast. A moment later, he’s resurrected but not like Jesus, more like Super Mario. He is zapped back to his arrival at the base moments before meeting his Master Sergeant, like the beginning of Level 1, again. The death dream plays itself out more than we’ll ever know. Cage’s gift for not ever really dying seems purely incidental and meaningless. He’s able to improve the fight in little ways but he’s nowhere near useful. Eventually, Cage develops the impossible skill of communicating with the warrior Rita and is able to convince her of his ability. She commands him to “Come find me when you wake up.” Then he explodes.

When he wakes up again, Cage finds Rita and they get to work. A rigorous and entertaining training montage follows as they attempt to make him perfect for battle. Some impressive editing in there. They get really good and are able to carve a path through the aliens by sheer repetition and memory. They usually get hung up, though. A lot of times she just blasts him in the head with a 9mm, like hitting reset. Why not? This sucks, fuck it. It happens so much that death really becomes meaningless. Nothing’s at stake anymore, there’s an extra guy every time, until there isn’t. Director Doug Liman does a nice job of making it count when it needs to.

That’s more or less the type of stuff that happens. There is a detailed explanation for the resurrection phenomenon but it’s more fun to see it in the film. Edge of Tomorrow is actually funny and refreshingly unsentimental, for a while anyway. It is Hollywood so they won’t leave an audience with a stone-cold existential crisis, but they pushed it about as far as possible. I appreciate that.

Exposition in movies like this can be a drag. Liman handles this really well. It’s ridiculous but it’s fun. It also occurred to me that I know so little about actual science that even fact-based mumbo jumbo would sound insane to me, so I have that to ponder. Anyway, it takes a special director to piece together action, exposition and performance. He did it.

Casting Emily Blunt is a really smart move; everybody should do that. She can get a lot done with just a few words here and there, and she totally owned the physicality of the role as well. I read somewhere that those robot armor suits weighed like 85 pounds. That’s intense. She’s now my favorite action star – they oughta put her in the new Expendables, if there’s still time. It’s probably because of her that this movie is so tangible. It’s a giant sci-fi movie with aliens, explosions and lots of CGI but it really is about the humanity in there. I think Godzilla kind of fell short on that front (but that monster looked great). I‘d love to see more movies like this.

Don’t get me wrong, Edge of Tomorrow ain’t Bergman, but for a Hollywood movie it did make me think a little and it’s well paced. (My attention didn’t drift like it normally does.) But if I have one gripe it’s how Major Cage seems to breeze through the worst day of his life again and again so easily. Maybe it’s to show off his shallowness but I could stand to see that character sink quite a few leagues deeper into the ol’ pit of psychological despair. He dies dozens of times (at least) before he even gets his first clue. I’d be really depressed, but that’s just me.

It’s never really revealed if this is a movie about fate or chance or both. The Matrix went out of its way to define its own destiny, so maybe questions like that shouldn’t be answered anymore. But there’s a lot of death and a lot of destruction and it moves fast and it made me laugh. It’s fun, I recommend it. GO ARMY!

With a strange mix of underground horror shock and existential atmosphere, Calvin Lee Reeder made a name for himself with short films like Piledriver and Little Farm. His features films The Rambler (Anchor Bay Films) and The Oregonian (Factory 25) divided and excited Sundance audiences just as his shorts had before them. Reeder specializes in turning lo-fi splatter pics into art films by meshing high-concept thought and design with genre storylines. Follow him here.