“Edge of Tomorrow” & “How To Train Your Dragon 2”
The problem with time travel movies is that somewhere along the way, the logic always breaks down. The problem with animated films is that the character identification is always secondhand, since the renderings on the screen aren’t “real.” So suspension of disbelief becomes a problem in both genres, and the only way to overcome that is through making the story itself so compelling that the viewer allows the distractions and inconsistencies, anyway.
“Edge of Tomorrow” is Tom Cruise (somehow still nearly ageless at age 51) playing an Army major (in “real life,” the Army would have retired him by then, but this is fantasy, remember?). Sometime in the indeterminate near future, the aliens have invaded, and have taken over much of Europe, so rapidly overwhelming “traditional” military forces of individual countries that the nations of the world have actually banded together against a common enemy (maybe the only way we’ll ever achieve real unity). So far the combat zone has resulted only in catastrophic defeat for the hapless earthlings against the “mimics,” who manage somehow to imitate our strategy and tactics and use them against us. Our not-so-intrepid Major Tom is quite content to do publicity and recruitment for the new worldwide Armed Forces, which effectively keeps him safely behind the lines.
But our preening, cowardly media star gets his come-uppance when he suddenly finds himself ordered to the front, and when he steadfastly resists, he’s busted to private for desertion, manacled, and sent to a ground combat unit, anyway, which is headed straight for disaster. The battle is a horrific and immediate failure, militarily, but a funny thing happens to our suddenly-resourceful Major Tom: he accidentally has some success, and manages to get so close to an “Alpha” alien that in killing it he gets the “alien goo” on him, which transforms his own body chemistry somehow, so that he now possesses the alien’s mastery over time. Meaning that every day he’s killed, he wakes up again and starts the day over. So, he has to learn success by small increments, after many repetitions and failures. Kind of like learning to hit a curve ball.
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” throws us a curve, especially for a “kid’s movie,” with some animated battle scenes (as opposed to the CGI of “Edge of Tomorrow,” which in movie production terms is virtually the same thing). And as in E of T, the good guys actually aren’t invincible; they do suffer losses. The fact that Tom Cruise is so persistently vulnerable is downright cartoonish after a while, like they’re channeling “Groundhog Day.” But Cruise has enough charisma as an actor to carry the story, anyway, while Emily Blunt, as the warrior princess, just looks mad all the time.
The warrior princess in HTTYD2 is actually more, well, animated, but neither really is very compelling. Ah, but the voice of Cate Blanchett is so alluring that we almost forgive her for being an absent parent (because her precious lifework later saves the world).
The interesting thing about both these films is the element of self-sacrifice for the purpose of saving others, a distinctly Christian notion. The problem with both of these films is that imaginary enemies just aren’t that menacing, or intimidating, not when we have real demon terrorists prowling like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8). Yes, we’d all love for our world to be safe from the aggressive menace that threatens to consume us. And the only invincible hero is Christus Victor, the self-sacrificing One whose story is like historical fiction to some and like a child’s fairy tale to others. But to we who are being saved, it is the very power of God (I Corinthians 1:18).
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas