Thursday, January 5, 2017

Tom Cruise Vs. The Aliens

Edge of Tomorrow and War of the Worlds both feature Tom Cruise blowing up aliens with grenades in a climactic moment, but other than that, they are pretty different movies.

War of the Worlds is a lot like Cloverfield. Its portagonist is not so much a hero as a bystander. The invader is not the story, merely a complication to what he is trying to achieve. They are screaming civilians. Their lives don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. They have things they are trying to accomplish in the movie, but they are not central to the invasion story. Whether the invaders come from the stars or below the seas, in War of the Worlds and Cloverfied the movie’s main characters are peripheral to the action.

In Edge of Tomorrow, a movie best described as Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers via Saving Private Ryan, Tom Cruise is the action. Owing to an act of fate, his life--and death--is the only one that matters.

War of the Worlds, like Cloverfield, uses the imagery of 9/11. Edge of Tomorrow uses the language of video games. Dying and respawning at the same point over and over and memorizing sequences of enemies and fighting one’s way to the One Giant Boss that needs to be killed to end the game. The farmhouse scene is also about trying to do something that the game won’t let you do.

Edge of Tomorrow is also interesting in the way it uses the bullshit-spouting Sergeant Farrell, whose clich├ęd lines about being born again and making one’s own fate work as empty, jingoistic rhetoric, while simultaneously working on a higher level, as he essentially and unknowingly serves as the movie’s thematic Greek chorus. It’s also kind of cool that the bravery-loving Farrell is played by Bill Paxton, the actor best known for his iconic portrayal of the cowardly Private “Game Over, Man” Hudson in Aliens.

It’s also a story of a boddhisattva--learning to try and save the world, not because saving the world makes one awesome and heroic, but because saving the world means saving the people in it, and bodhisattvas care about beings like Faith No More cares about the Army Navy Air Force and Marines (*).

That’s the nifty thing about Edge of Tomorrow--it goes a step beyond what we normally these kinds of redemption stories. There are plenty of movies about a selfish person who cares only about himself meeting the right woman (or lovable misfit kids’ hockey team) and learning to love her too…but Edge of Tomorrow is one of the few movies I’ve seen that rightly sees this as only an intermediate step. Caring about friends, lovers, family as in War of the Worlds or Cloverfield is great, but there is still an element of selfishness to it. “You complete me” (Okay, Tom Cruise doesn’t say that in THIS movie) is to an extent, still making it about what someone else can do for me. Its drawing a line between people who are important to me and people who are not.

Edge of Tomorrow takes the bold step--as Emily Blunt’s character points out--of saying that isn’t enough. That it is possible to do more. That every life is worth caring about.

War of the Worlds is about Tom Cruise caring about his family--something that stays true through the beginning, middle, and end of the movie. Edge of Tomorrow takes Tom Cruise from caring only about saving himself to learning how he can save everyone.

(*) Faith No More also cares deeply about Transformers cause they’re more than meets the eye, which makes them tops in my book.

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