‘Edge of Tomorrow’ sits on graves of yesterday

A fusillade of bullets rained down on incoming soldiers, shrouding the beach in blood, debris and smoke.

“What the hell,” says a soldier. “They’re not even supposed to know we’re coming.”

“This is a slaughterhouse,” says another.

If you’ve lived through the battle of Normandy (or seen Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”), this scene from Doug Liman’s sci-fi action thriller “Edge of Tomorrow” will seem familiar. More than 160,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy for Operation Neptune on June 6, 1944. More than 9,000 soldiers were killed or wounded.

“Edge of Tomorrow,” which was released on the 70th anniversary of D-Day earlier this month, stars U.S. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a U.S. army mouthpiece who’s recruited millions to fight an alien invasion.

Cage thinks this makes him immune to the front lines, but when he reports to his commanding officer, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), Major Cage is sent to the beaches of France to fight alongside every other poor soldiers drafted in the first wave of Operation Downfall.

There he meets Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton), who spouts recycled inspirational maxims like “War is the great redeemer,” “There is no courage without fear,” and “The world only expects one thing from us — that we will win.” (Gen. Eisenhower once said regarding D-Day, “We will accept nothing less than full victory.”)

But these Normandy landings, although familiar, are different from those in 1944. Soldiers drop down from the sky. Pulsating robotic aliens bury their tentacles through the sand. Flames swallow everything and everyone dies.

Everyone including Major Cage. Only when Cage dies, he respawns as if he’s living in a video game — waking up on the day before battle and reliving the same events.

“Edge of Tomorrow” reunites Liman with screenplay writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (the three worked together on “Fair Game.”) and writer Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects,” “Jack the Giant Slayer”). It’s based on a work of fiction (Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s Japanese novel “All You Need Is Kill”), but holds a strain of authenticity. A platoon is punished for one soldier’s mishaps. And as much as they might hate each other, they have each others’ backs in battle. The rest though, could be dismissed as an elaborate exhibition of Scientology.

The Church of Scientology teaches that people are immortal; by auditing, people re-experience traumatic events from their past in order to free themselves.

New Jersey native Major Cage literally relives his past, stuck in an endless time loop where he dies over and over. His auditor, veteran soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), shared Cage’s special ability and mentors him. Nicknamed the “Angel of Verdun,” she’s killed hundreds of aliens in her full metal suit.

It’s not hard to see why Cruise, described as “the public face of the church,” was attracted to this film. He could have been talking about Scientology when he says, “What I’m about to tell you sounds crazy, but it’s true and you have to listen to me.” (He had a version of this conversation with Today Show’s Matt Lauer.)

Cruise’s charismatic here though. So’s Blunt. You feel sorry for the couple as they go through their “50 First Dates,” but they’re strong and resilient soldiers. Cage evolves from a potential army deserter to a one-man gun show. Rita’s would rather die than abandon her country. These are yesterday’s soldiers — the 160,000 who fearlessly protected us from the edge of tomorrow so that we could enjoy our freedoms today.

 “Edge of Tomorrow” was directed by Doug Liman and written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Christopher McQuarrie.

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