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Alias: Season Three

In its third season, Alias pulls off a hat trick with another round of pulpy page-turner adventure —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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Edge of Tomorrow gets bonus points for bringing a little freshness and thought to the summer season.

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It’s the same kind of sensation experienced with last summer’s Pacific Rim. There’s fun to be had in Edge of Tomorrow; savor the enjoyment of watching something a little different and relish in feeding the mind with fresh ideas.

There’s a whole bunch of science fiction - time travel and monsters from outer space - that puts a modern, CGI-heavy spin on an interesting underlying theme: History and its knack for repeating itself.

William Cage (Tom Cruise, Oblivion) is a military ad man who takes pride in creating recruitment propaganda for the effort to defeat the alien Mimics, multi-tentacled and fast-moving beasts who can rip through thousands upon thousands of human soldiers in a matter of moments. Among those campaigns is a heroine, Rita Vrataski, dubbed the Angel of Verdun (Emily Blunt, The Adjustment Bureau), and the latest recruiting drive revolves around a military landing on the beaches of France.

Fittingly, Edge of Tomorrow is being released in US theaters on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy.

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In the movie, the posters featuring the ultra-heroic Angel of Verdun evoke the stylings of World War I and II military propaganda. There’s a certain kind of safety in referring back to the World Wars in comparison to the military efforts of today and the splinter cells of terrorist activity. After all, the good guys won those wars and numerous cultures and artifacts were preserved for future generations as a result.

Even so, the crux of the story is every bit as applicable to the more ambiguous, virus-like situations of today. And the question remains: How do you defeat an enemy who learns from mistakes and persists in efforts of global disruption?

The Mimics, as it turns out, are unified by a powerful central organism tucked away somewhere in Europe and this organism serves as a heart that keeps the creatures alive. Here’s the twist, though: The heart can reset itself. It can go back in time to save the killed Mimics by learning from the mistakes made and taking corrective actions with fresh maneuvers.

Enter William, assigned to combat against his will as, for all intents and purposes, a sacrificial lamb in the invasion of France. After being killed by a rare blue Mimic and exposed to its contagions, he finds himself in an endless loop, repeating his experiences in the draft and in death. But, like Mimics, his memory sticks and he notices he can adjust the outcome of those experiences, which leads to his efforts to save the Angel of Verdun during the beach battle, then move on to save all of Europe and, ultimately, the world.

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Edge of Tomorrow is based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s book All You Need Is Kill and the screenplay was co-written by Christopher McQuarrie (Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie) and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Fair Game, directed by Doug Liman). They tackle the material with a nice mix of humor and action and, more importantly, they respect the audience’s intelligence. This isn’t a stupid, mindless action flick, the typical sort of summer fare.

Once they work through the repetitive nature of the scenario, truncating the familiar bits from one time reset to the next, the story builds momentum and the characters come into focus more clearly. Cruise and Blunt are absolutely terrific together and the temptation is there to turn them into a romantic pairing. Instead, that element is smartly kept on the back burner while Europe burns.

Time travel is a tried and true element of science fiction movies, but it’s one that can be overused and abused. It can turn into a copout, a way to cheat the story and the characters in order to fumble into a conclusion. Therefore, the better defined the time travel rules, the better the end result.

There are rules behind the time travel in Edge of Tomorrow and they lead to a conclusion that gets the mind spinning. Does what happens make sound sense? Well, what more can be asked of a summer blockbuster than an ending that’s worth chatting about over a cup of Joe or a couple pints? It doesn’t happen very often - and it’s the kind of trick Hollywood should try to repeat.