Edge of Tomorrow

So,  I recently watched the movie, “The Edge of Tomorrow”.   It was excellent!  If you haven’t seen it, go watch it now.  Come back afterwards because there are SPOILERS ahead.


Ok, now that you’ve watched the movie, what did you think?  The obvious comparison is to to the movie, "Groundhog Day”, where the main character starts out as a self centered, jaded jerk, but gradually learns to appreciate other people. However, I think an interesting way to think about this movie is in terms of what makes a hero and what is courage.

Major William Cage seems to fit into the mold of the trickster hero. He starts out as a smooth operator who things that he will be able to talk his way out of anything—including an assignment to cover a major battle against the aliens—from the front lines. He learns that it is not possible and is knocked out and finds himself busted down to a new recruit thrown into battle with no training. He quickly dies, but is bathed in alien blood which somehow confers on him the ability to relive the same day over and over. During this episode, he meets the legendary warrior, Rita Vrataski, though it takes some time before he even learns her name.

In the beginning, he is clearly not a warrior. Master Sergeant Farrell tells him,

"You’re a coward and a liar putting your life above theirs. The good news is there’s hope for you, private. Hope in the form of glorious combat. Battle is the great redeemer. The fire and crucible in which the only true heroes are forged. The one place where all men truly share the same rank, regardless of what kind of parasitic scum their were going in. … I envy you, Cage. Tomorrow morning you will be baptized — born again.”

Initially, we take the Sergeant’s words as empty, but gradually, Cage begins to train himself as a warrior and after meeting up with Vrataski, he is trained by her. Dying time after time, he gradually learns to be a warrior. After he gains more proficiency, he at Vrataski set out to try to reach what they believe to be the location of the “Omega” which is the alien which apparently controls all of the others. If the Omega is destroyed, then the invasion will fail. However, I would argue that it isn’t until he stops fighting one time and escapes to London and watches it being invaded by the aliens that he finds something worth fighting for and truly starts walking along the path of the hero. There’s also a point where he hits a wall and in a very touching farm scene reveals that his mentor and friend Vrataski can’t make it any farther. That no matter what he tries, she dies (I would argue that she is a true hero where she puts the lives of others ahead of hers—even though she can’t get close to other people after watching someone she loves die over and over and over again, unable to save them…). Finally, he makes the conclusion that he has to proceed on his own (these two characters show an interesting variation of the American Lone Hero archetype) and discovers the whole mission was a trap.

Later, he finds that he needs to recover a device from the general in order to discover the true plans of the Omega. He succeeds, but loses his ability to loop through time and becomes mortal again. I would argue that this is when he truly becomes a hero. He gathers a team and they decide that they will try to destroy the alien Omega, even though it’s likely to be a one way mission. After their companions heroically sell their lives to help the others advance, Cage and Vrataski enter the alien stronghold. Finally, one of them has to face an “Alpha”, while the other detonates the Omega. Cage feels protective towards Vrataski, and offers to attack the Alpha, but she tells him that neither of them will survive…He realizes this and still proceeds.

Let’s stop here. At this point, Cage believes that he can kill the alien Omega and save humanity, but he will have to die to do it. So will Vrataski, who he has feelings for. Beyond that, he will never be recognized for his bravery. People may never know that it was his mission that led to the alien defeat—likely, he will simply be remembered as a coward and a deserter. Yet, despite this, he does the right thing and sacrifices himself and wins, destroying the Omega.

Afterwards, there are scenes showing that humanity is saved. I think this would have been a great place to stop. He became a hero—he faced his fears, found a cause worth dying for and protected humanity. It reminds me in some ways of Gladiator—a movie with the courage to allow the main character to succeed, but also to die. “Ghost Dog” was another excellent film in which the main character succeeds, but also dies. Instead, I think the movie decides to go with the typical hollywood feel good ending by resurrecting Cage one more time, but this time still in his role as a major, rather than in disgrace (which means that he is leapt back further in time than before—huh?) and to show him meeting Vrataski with the implication that he believes he has a chance to rekindle the possibility of a relationship with her in this version of the timeline that he wasn’t able to realize before.

I think it would have been far more powerful to have him die a forgotten hero, along with the rest of his team. It would have been tragic, but made the point that sometimes, success may mean that you don’t get a happy ending for yourself. That even if there is no personal reward, you still do the right thing—with your only reward being the knowledge that you succeeded and did the right thing—even if no one else will ever know about it.

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Star Trek: Into Darkness (warning, contains spoilers!)

I saw Star Trek:  Into Darkness in 3D Imax opening night.  The 3D was excellent.   The action was impressive.  However, somehow I left disappointed.   I think it was the action.

I grew up as a Star Trek fan.  I enjoyed the original series.  It took awhile for The Next Generation to grow on me.   At one point, I could recognize an episode from either series from just a few lines.   The spinoff series of DS9 took me longer to get into.   The character development was excellent and eventually it won me over.  Voyager, I felt borrowed too much from the older series, but 7 of 9 was a welcome addition to the show.   Enterprise, I have to say, never grew on me...

So, what was it about Star Trek that drew me in?  Part of it was the aliens.   But, Star Trek has always had an optimistic view of the future and has raised interesting social and philosophical questions.   I think this is part of what left me feeling disappointed about the last Star Trek movie.   Ultimately, Star Trek is not about the action, but is about the story.

We open to a scene on a planet in the Nibiru system.   The crew is trying to save the planet without violating the Prime Directive.   Spock is willing to die to avoid violating the Prime Directive, but Kirk breaks it to save his friend.   This is in keeping with Kirk's character in that for him, his crew come before all else.    Some of the setup to this is a bit hokey in that there's no obvious reason why ship needs to be under water and to be exposed to the natives, but let's go with it.

Later, Spock tattles on Kirk for breaking the directive and Kirk is demoted--luckily only to first officer--he's called to Starfleet headquarters for a meeting and a terrorist attack occurs and much of the Starfleet leadership is decimated.   Kirk is then pressed to go after the enemy on a secret seek and destroy mission involving 72 (interesting choice of number) prototype photon torpedoes.   To accomplish this, he will have to launch a covert attack in Klingon territory.   This cries out, "Bad Idea!", but Kirk is enraged at the loss of life, including his mentor Pike and anger clouds his judgement.  Also, the version of Spock in this universe is not able to act as a counterbalance and urge him towards reason--at least initially.    Though Spock does urge Kirk to consider that it is not the Starfleet way to kill a man without trial.   This whole issue is a nice commentary on todays world of drone strikes, targeted killings, terrorism, etc.   Once underway, Kirk comes to his senses and decides to apprehend the terrorist (Khan) rather than kill him from afar as ordered.  So, we see that though there is a glitch in Starfleet, it still has the overall character that we appreciated in it's original incarnation of an organization more dedicated to exploration than to war.

I'll fast forward.   Towards the end, we find that the director has inverted the role of Kirk and Spock in the original Wrath of Khan and has Kirk as the one who has rushed into the high radiation zone (though this doesn't make sense as part of Spock's reasoning in the original one was that with his physiology he could survive long enough to do what was necessary--along with his view that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few) to save the ship--in keeping with his character and the way that events unfold in this version of the timeline.   We then are treated to a mirror of the scene in the original Wrath of Khan where Kirk and Spock exchange their farewells--but this version lacks the poignancy of the original.  Because, in the original, these men had been friends not just for part of the academy, but throughout a 5 year mission and had faced many troubles together.   That's part of the problem with the film--without the 5 year mission, the bonds that we're used to should not be least not to the same level as before...

The other problem I have with the film is during the fight scene between Spock and Khan towards the end, Spock really loses control and has to be calmed by Uhura.  This is a Spock without the control over his emotions that the original had--and there is not a reason given as to why.   Meanwhile, Kirk is saved by Khan's blood, which also seems to be a stretch--why didn't someone "bottle" that stuff for later use if it could be used to cure the dead?

At least by the end, the crew begins their mission of exploration and this version of Starfleet seems to have regained it's path towards exploration over war.   So, there are some things that are to like about this movie.   I think its commentary on how a free society can react to terrorism is well done and is in keeping with questions raised in the original series about race, religion, etc.   However, I think the original Wrath of Khan held more dramatic tension and stronger characters.   This version of Khan fell flat.    Also, the full implications of the altered timeline were not realized.   Finally, this version of Spock seems unbalanced.   We'll see how the next one goes....
















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