Friday, June 6, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (3 stars) (3 1/2 stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Edge of Tomorrow [2014] (directed by Doug Liman, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth based on the graphic novel "All You Need is Kill" by Hiroshi Sakurazaka) makes for an interesting D-Day tribute movie, released indeed on the day of the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion.  It's basically Saving Private Ryan [1998], meets Starship Troopers [1997], meets Ground Hog Day [1993] / The Source Code [2011] (reviewed here) all making for the film's lead character (played by Tom Cruise), a truly very, very long, indeed arguably, The Longest Day [1962].

As I watched the film, I wondered if I should recommend (yes, in good part lightheartedly) it to my 82 year old dad (who has actually donned 3D glasses with me to see such recent films as Life of Pi [2012] and The Great Gatsby [2013] ;-), who was 12 at the time of D-Day growing-up then in the Nazi-occupied Czech half of Czechoslovakia, er the "Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia" and first heard of the invasion back home listening to the BBC on (illegal but commonplace throughout occupied Europe) shortwave radio (called affectionately by the Czechs a "Churchillovka").  Yes, the pace of the current film's battle scenes is kinda crazy -- I don't think the film would be particularly good for "folks with heart conditions" -- but in a way the film comes across as a remarkably sincere tribute BY A GENERATION that's "parachuted into" / "landed in" Normandy time-and-again via "Brothers in Arms" / "Call of Duty" video games TO THEIR PARENTS' / GRANDPARENTS' GENERATION that HAD TO DO THIS _FOR REAL_.

There's also a interesting "PC" (politically correct) aspect to the film.  In this story, Europe had been over-run, not by Nazis but by metallic hive-minded bug-like space aliens -- so all Europeans including Germans can go to the film and presumably play the inevitable video game that will certainly follow.  As the film begins, England and the Americas are about to launch a D-Day like invasion codenamed "Operation Downfall" to relieve the Russians and Chinese fighting the metallic hive-minded bug-like space aliens "on the Eastern front" (so the Russians and the Chinese can also go to the movie and play the inevitable video-game as well).  

Then there's another amusing swipe at (or "nod to") the today's young "social media savvy" generation: WHILE "Downfall" KINDA SOUNDS LIKE "Overlord" (the actual codename for the 1944 Normandy Invasion) IT ALSO EVOKES the German film Downfall [2004] about the last days of Hitler (which has subsequently become YouTube "meme" cult classic with countless parodies of the crest-fallen/crushed Adolf Hitler yelling at his generals but now for all kinds of more contemporary concerns: he couldn't get his Vista update to work, he broke his tv playing wii video-bowling, he couldn't believe that Kayne West dissed Taylor Swift so badly at the VMA's one year, etc, etc ;-).

Finally, there's even a potential nod to a contemporary conspiracy theory that has suggested that the Nazi's ultimate secret weapon that they were trying to develop in the closing years-months-days of the war was some sort of a time-machine called "Die Glocke."  (In the film, the hive-minded bug-like space aliens have the ability to time travel into the near future to reconnoiter / discern their enemy's (humanity's) intentions.  Thus humanity's frustration that the aliens seem _always ready_ for anything that humanity throws at them).

It all makes for an interesting mishmash giving tribute to the Normandy invasion while recognizing that the bravery and horror it entailed is getting (in part, THANKFULLY) clouded over by more contemporary concerns.  After all, our parents and grandparents landed on those beaches so that we (their children and grandchildren) would be able to LIVE FREE and thus HAVE THE LUXURY TO-BE-ABLE-TO-HAVE more care-free, even at times GOOFY "more contemporary concerns." 

Indeed, I even wonder if Franz Kafka (a Czech-Jewish German-writing expressionist writer who Hitler absolutely hated) would appreciate a film that reduced the Nazis to "metallic hive-minded bug-like space aliens." After all, Kafka's most famous book was Metamorphosis (wikip) which was about "Gregor Samsa" discovering one day that he had "turned into a cockroach." ;-)  (And while he even he himself would have never guessed it at the time, he was _dead-on correct_ as to guessing what was going to happen with fast-arriving Nazi rule: The Jews as a people, HIS PEOPLE, were going to be QUITE SUDDENLY considered little more than "cockroaches" during Nazi occupation, until the Nazis themselves were finally crushed).

So then, to the film ... the story's about Major (soon to be Private) Cage (played spot-on throughout by Tom Cruise) an "ad-man" arriving in London on the eve of the long-expected re-invasion of Europe to take back the continent from a race of metallic insect-like space aliens that had crashed into Central Europe (Germany?) some years before and had conquered / laid waste to most of the Continent ever since.  The Russians and Chinese had contained them "to the East" (presumably after horrific losses), but in the West they these metallic bug-like monsters had long since reached the Atlantic coast.  Only England remained free.

The only bright spot in the West, up to this point, was a victory, temporary it turned out, some years before at Verdun (a name recalling French heroics during WW I) led by a woman named Rita Wratkowski (played by Emily Blunt).  Despite having had only 1 day of training (apparently, the French/Allies were desperate) she somehow over-came metallic bug-like space aliens there at Verdun, and her legend (sort of like a modern-day Joan of Arc) was then used by recruiters (including the above mentioned "ad-man" Major Cage) to assemble a million+ army to face said metallic bug-like space aliens: "See they are not invincible."  (But no one really knew _why_ Rita had been so successful back then at Verdun ...)

So the film then begins on the eve of "Operation Downfall" where the joint allied plan appeared to be simply drop said, assembled, 1,000,000+ army on the beaches of Normandy and beyond and ... apparently _hope_ that at least a number of them would become as successful as Rita had been at Verdun.  (Again, nobody really knew _why_ she had been so successful, and yet, all the other training that they were giving their soldiers didn't really matter either.  The battle was going to be simply a no holds barred / anything goes / total war slugfest).

So ... given that training to fight these vicious, metallic, bug-like aliens didn't really matter but bodies (and at least some degree of bravery or at least instinct for self-preservation did) Major Cage finds himself, to his horror ORDERED by the invasion's commanding officer General Brigham (played by Brendan Gleeson).  "But I'm an ad-man."  "So what?"  "I helped recruit for you this 1,000,000 strong army."  "So what?"  "But I'm not even trained for combat."  "So what?  "This is WAR, a DESPERATE WAR, and WE NEED EVERY SINGLE SOUL TO FIGHT."  So Major Cage, now stripped in rank down to PRIVATE is dropped-off, "boots" still not "on the ground" but IN HIS HANDS, at the "Forward Operating Base" of Heathrow Airport outside of London to join a squad of not necessarily better trained but at least more psychologically prepared soldiers set to "drop down into Normandy" THE NEXT DAY for the Invasion.

Is anybody concerned that Cage doesn't have a clue what he's doing?  NO.  But the squad's commander Master Sgt. Farell (played by Bill Paxton) seems convinced that "the true crucible for the soldier is the battlefield" and whatever he needs to learn, he'll learn there.

So ... the next day, there's Private Cage, strapped in a ridiculously cumbersome futuristic sci-fi looking exo-skeleton suit, armed to the teeth with weapons that he doesn't know how to operate (he spends most of his flight from England to "the drop zone" in Normandy scrolling through the 100 or so language-choices on the small 3x5" video screen attached to one his arms TO TRY TO FIND ENGLISH AMONG THEM.  And then, he finds himself, helicopter transport already hit and burning JUST DROPPED (FREE-FALL) ONTO THE BEACH IN NORMANDY (the exo-skeleton apparently good for something as he didn't just die with the drop ...) with couple of his squad-mates getting wiped-out by the helicopter crashing on top of them.

Utterly terrified, Cage, is only able to successfully duck debris from other transports (and pieces of other soldiers' exo-skeletons) crashing all around him.  Then he and the others first see these hellish, multi-tentacled metallic insect-like aliens swarming over, on top of, as well as from under the sand toward them.  Again, Private Cage is just trying to scroll through the @#$ video screen settings on his monitor to finally set the @#$ thing toEnglish.  FINALLY, he manages to do so ... and gets off exactly one shot ... before he himself is killed ... by the hot molten orangish ooze coming out of the alien that he had BY TOTAL LUCK SHOT ... and ...

... TO HIS UTTER SHOCK, HE WAKES UP AGAIN, on the tarmac at Heathrow, boots in his hand, like the day before.  WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED?

Now, I would suspect that many surviving World War II veterans could be appalled by the presentation of the battle so far.  "WE WERE TRAINED FOR NORMANDY, D**MIT.  WE SPENT TWO YEARS (!!) PREPARING FOR THAT DAY." 

And you're ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.  BUT ... today's kid who buys a "Code of Honor" video game and plops it into an X-box to "play" NORMANDY INVASION ... "ENTERS THE BATTLE" FOR THE FIRST TIME with ABOUT AS MUCH "EXPERIENCE" as good old Major / Private Cage had ;-) ;-).  And it's actually a good reminder to the kids that Normandy (UNLIKE A VIDEO GAME) was A ONE TIME DEAL (and REQUIRED PRECISELY A LOT MORE _TRAINING_ and a _LOT MORE BRAVERY_ than playing a video game.

However, given the scenario that Cage finds himself in, the story's "Master Sgt Farrell" is actually right: All that "Private Cage" needs to know, _he will learn_ "on the battlefield" as he plays this day OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN ;-)

And that's what happens.  Each time Private Cage dies, he finds himself waking up on the tarmac at Heathrow and the scenario resets itself and as time goes on, Private Cage gets better and better at what he's doing.

Now, of course, Private Cage IS VERY CONFUSED as to why he's waking-up EVERYTIME "after dying" on the tarmac at Heathrow (and _nobody else_ believes him when he tells them that "he's been there before.") but ... he does notice in the battle on the beach the above mentioned "angel of Verdun" Rita among the combatants ... and since, she, if nothing else, was by legend a very good soldier, he asks her to help him.  She replies: "The next time you die, LOOK FOR ME..." (SHE SEEMS TO KNOW THAT THERE'S SOMETHING STRANGE GOING ON IN THIS SCENARIO).

So ... after he dies on the beach there ... the next time he finds himself again on the tarmac there in Heathrow, he sets about "looking for her."  It takes him a few more iterations to find her ...

When he does, she explains to him, that the SAME THING that is happening to him, HAPPENED TO HER "at Verdun" (THAT'S WHY even though she was a raw recruit, with only one day of training was able to win the battle there BECAUSE ... she spent a VAST NUMBER OF CYCLES THERE repeating THAT SAME ONE DAY OVER AND OVER AGAIN.  Now the same thing appears to be happening to Private Cage, when he dies, he seems to be going back to the beginning of his own "one day cycle."

She also explains that the bug-like aliens were winning this war because _they_ do the same thing.   Each time they lose a battle, they just go back to the previous day and adapt.  Key in this short term time travel were relatively rare bugs called "alpha aliens."  When _they die_ they are the ones who teleport back a short time in time (about a day...) to start over.  HOWEVER, since these aliens have a hive-like mind, whatever they learn, gets transported back to basically the "mother beetle" named an "omega alien" who then instructs all the other bug-like aliens as to what to do defeat the humans the next time.

The key then to defeat the aliens is to find and kill the mother (omega) alien.  Kill it (presumably without killing any of the alpha aliens) and the bug like aliens can't reset and therefore will be defeated.

Good ... but why can Private Cage (and before that Private Rita Wratkowski) "reset" as well ... It seems that Private Cage (and Private Rita Wratkowski before him) had killed one of the "alpha" bug-like aliens and the molten orangish blood that had spilled on him gave him the ability to also bounce back in time (one day) following his apparent death.  She had lost her ability to do so:  To reset you have to truly DIE (and one time she had been merely wounded, and the blood transfusion that she received killed her ability to go back in time any more ...).

So now "the rules of the game"  are known by at least Rita, Private Cage and one other scientist, a Dr. Carter (played by Noah Taylor) who had somehow suspected that this was what the aliens were doing to win.  When Rita (during her near infinite number of reboots) ran into him, he the only one who believed her when she told him that she was not dying when she "died" but instead finding herself one day in the past to relive that day anew.  Together the three then set-about finding a way to (1) "get off the beach" during that invasion and (2) "find and kill the omega beatle."

The rest of the film follows ...

It's a fascinating movie, isn't it? ;-) Strange yes, but in its own way it _can_ lead the younger generations of TODAY to appreciate the total-war stakes that were involved during World War II as well as the reality that UNLIKE Private Cage and Private Wratkowski, the allied soldiers fighting the war DIDN'T have any chance at a do-over.  NORMANDY WAS FOR REAL where there wasn't the luxury to "learn from one's mistakes."  IT SIMPLY HAD TO WORK.


So God bless you WW II Allied War Veterans!  YOU REALLY DID SAVE OUR WORLD!

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