Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt

Like a lot of people (judging by the film's tepid box office) I didn't catch Edge of Tomorrow (or Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow as it has been rebranded) when it was in theaters. I missed out by not making time for it because the film - whatever you want to call it; a rose by any other name, and all that - is one of the year's best pure entertainments. A smart science fiction action movie which has confidence enough in the audience not to spoon feed the plot, and instead to trust that the audience will keep up and follow along, Edge of Tomorrow is the sort of popcorn movie that most of us always say we want - but, based on the fact that it grossed less than half of what the last Transformers movie made, it is perhaps not the popcorn movie we deserve. If you haven't caught up with it yet, I highly recommend it. It's a film that is entertaining and intelligent in equal measure.

Tom Cruise stars as William Cage, a public face of the US Army whose role is to give interviews and convince civilians to join the fight as the world battles a race of aliens called Mimics that have taken over continental Europe. Though he's attained the rank of Major, Cage is only ceremonially a soldier, the kind of guy who looks good in the uniform and looks like a hero and whose purpose is not to fight himself, but to act as a walking advertisement for the armed forces. He admits as much when he's summoned to see General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), who informs him that he's going to be shipping out to take part in an invasion of Normandy. After trying to blackmail the General and then just trying to run in order to escape combat, Cage is knocked out and sent in handcuffs to an operating base at Heathrow, where he's busted down to the rank of Private and left in the command of Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton). Despite his lack of training and his all-consuming terror, Cage lands on the beach in what turns out to be a suicide mission and manages to kill a Mimic before being killed himself, his blood mingling with that of the Mimic. Cage then wakes up and relives the previous day he spent at Heathrow, trying to warn others that the invasion is going to fail, but finding no one who will listen. Just as before, he lands on the beach, and events occur just as he had previously experienced, and he dies only to wake up again at Heathrow. During the course of a few re-lived days he meets Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a celebrated soldier known alternately as "Full Metal Bitch" and the "Angel of Verdun," who cryptically tells him to find her when he wakes up just before they're both killed.

When he finds Rita, she explains to him that he's developed the ability to reset the day as a result of his blood mingling with that of a special kind of Mimic known as an Alpha. She, too, once had the ability which is how she was able to make the campaign at Verdun a success, but she subsequently lost it after being injured and given a blood transfusion. As long as Cage has the Mimic blood, he'll be able to start over again, but only by dying. Cage lives the day over and over and over again, each time finding Rita, having the same initial conversation they always have, training with her, strategizing with her, and trying various things to win the battle against the Mimics. Each of them die multiple times as they first figure out a way off the beach, and then as they try to figure out how to get to the Omega Mimic who controls the Mimics' hive mind. As he keep reliving the day, Cage becomes an increasingly effective soldier and he develops an emotional attachment to Rita, though she tries to warn him against that based on her own experience watching a fellow soldier she had grown to love die 300 times. After falling into a trap while hunting the Omega, Cage and Rita get hold of a device developed by Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), the only other person who knows what has happened to them, and Cage is able to have a vision of where the Omega is hiding and he and Rita formulate a plan to end the war once and for all.

Based on the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, with a screenplay credited to Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Christopher McQuarrie (Dante Harper, who wrote the original script, and Joby Harold and Simon Kimberg, both of whom did rewrites, are uncredited), Edge of Tomorrow is a film which finds a solid balance between serious action and moments of lightness. The opening sequence, in which Cage tries to self-deprecatingly charm his way out of combat, is great, as is the training sequences which find Cage being thrown around the room and trying to talk Rita out of shooting him in the head whenever he becomes too injured to carry on. Scenes like these are a brilliant subversion of Cruise's onscreen persona while also providing enough lightness that the film doesn't become overwhelmed by the seriousness and heaviness of later scenes. The training scenes also showcase what a good foil Blunt is for Cruise, her clipped and to-the-point manner foreshadowing where Cage will end up once he's been battle-hardened by experience. How the film develops and handles the relationship between Cage and Rita is one of it's greatest strengths, even if Rita doesn't completely break out of the "helper maiden" mould. As the story goes forward, Cage becomes increasingly attached to Rita because, to him, they've been through so much together. For her, though, he's always someone that she's just met so she doesn't share his feelings because she doesn't share his memories, but because of what she went through when she had the ability to reset the day, she still understands what it's like for him. She was once in his position so she empathizes with his plight and she connects with his experience through her own.

As directed by Doug Liman, Edge of Tomorrow unfolds at a fast pace, pushing forward and folding back on itself while trusting that the audience will follow along and not need its hand held. Once the film establishes its premise and its rules, its only concern is proceeding to the next level and then the one after that, sometimes only revealing well into a sequence that what we're seeing for the first time is something that Cage has already experienced before. Edge of Tomorrow is a high energy film that steadily chugs along and hits all the right beats at all the right moments, and it features solid leading performances from Cruise and Blunt that help give it some emotional depth to go along with its technical prowess. The only real weakness with the film is its ending, which was apparently still being worked out when filming began, and which doesn't really make a lot of sense. It's not that Cage doesn't deserve the requisite Hollywood happy ending after everything he endures, but that doesn't make it seem any less contrived. Still, everything leading up to that is so strong that a flimsy ending is just a minor problem and not enough to drag the whole thing down.

1 comment:

Helen said...

I DID see it in the theatre when it played here and it surprised me that more people didn't see it. I saw Transformers 4 and hated it, this movie I loved. It was smart and funny....everything that T4 wasn't.

Great review!