Saturday, February 21, 2015

Edge of Tomorrow Review - Flawless Victory

So, when this past Summer did suck for me, it sucked hard. A close friend passed on, I was working massive hours, doing everything I could to freeze a proper public face onto myself while dealing with various problems and snafus, one of my cousins needed treatment for cancer - and, before I knew it, I had a close relative grow terminally ill. While only a few things might have helped make the struggle easier, I know I would've felt better if I had gone out to see Edge of Tomorrow in June.

It's kind of ludicrous, but I kid you not (and I kinda trashed the subway ad, too). I had a pretty rough week when I saw EoT over the past month, and it brightened up my day immediately. I think I was as pleased to see a really, really good sci-fi/action film as I was to see a badass woman at the fore and to have Tom Cruise star in a movie that had him playing against type.

I've felt Tom Cruise burnout for a while. I was planning on writing a whole post about this, but he almost always plays the same character, and his selection of movies generally leaves me cold (I'm looking at you, Jack Reacher). I actually avoid his modern films, despite liking him back in the day - and though I defended him (only) when he was treated unfairly, it says a lot that his massive CV has only been addressed here in the form of Valkyrie, Mission Impossible, and MI: Ghost Protocol.

And, although I wasn't convinced to see Oblivion - whose reviews were "it's good, though a little predictable because it's very derivative of 10+ other movies" - the praise for Edge of Tomorrow (which has been retitled Live. Die. Repeat. for rental and home video) was simply too positive and too uniform for me to ignore. Now I know that everybody was right and that I should've watched it in the theater. Damn.

A news montage (which is kind of a cliché) fills us in quickly: a meteor fell in Eastern Europe, hostile aliens stormed out from it, and then swept through the whole continent. 5 years into the war, humanity is losing, and a massive push will try to keep the creatures from spreading to the Western Hemisphere. And who's the public face of the war? Who drums up support with the media? Major Bill Cage (duh, Tom Cruise) and his big, handsome face.

But the next scene, which takes place in England, shows us something completely different. Bill utterly chickens out when the General in charge (Brendan Gleeson) tells him to fly in with troops and record their struggle. Tom flatly says that he joined to use his media skills to help, and has no intention of being near danger or combat, much less a potential massacre as humans storm the beach at Verdun, France (someone remembered their WWI history).

General Brigham responds to this begging (and worse behavior) in a messed-up, but not wholly-undeserved way: he claims Cage is impersonating an officer and orders him to the forefront of the fight, as a basic grunt. Bill Cage is untrained with the mech suit that he's in, everyone with him dies, and he only learns to use his guns when a massive creature attacks. As both Cage and the alien die, it bleeds on him, and Bill wakes up in handcuffs - just before he was going to be deployed. And, later, he wakes up in that spot again. And again. And again.

If you haven't seen the movie, just know that it's like a mix of Starship Troopers, Saving Private Ryan, and Groundhog Day. That last pic is the most significant reference point, and, as longtime readers know, I posted Slate's great mashup of the trailers for Edge of Tomorrow and GD. Rent it immediately and don't worry. For anyone who wants to hear my semi-spoiler-ish thoughts, read on.

This is an almost letter-perfect action film, and equally impressive as a sci-fi action piece. The pace offers a pleasantly-balanced series of dialogue and combat sequences, the special effects are gorgeous, and the heavy use of CGI (for once) does not at all diminish the impact of what's on display. The enemies are faceless, which undermines many pix, but they are so powerful and clever that it doesn't matter much. More importantly, the human characters are engaging people who can easily inspire your admiration or contempt.

To that end, I am happy to say that, although EoT is not a terribly deep or thoughtful exploration of humanity and the human condition (as proper sci-fi should do), it does still stay centered on the effect that a sci-fi concept can have on people as human beings. The fantastical things experienced by Mr. Cruise's role have a profound impact on his character, as well as on the other people who experience them. Sci-fi is meant to say a lot about how impossible events can change a person, and you see it here.

Best of all, the two leads are used beautifully. Emily Blunt - who blew me away in Looper - is Rita Vrataski (rock on, Poland!), the epitome of a veteran soldier. She's focused on the most critical goals, brutally willing to sacrifice herself and others for victory, and doesn't suffer any bs or disrespect from people. This is the kind of role that I would've thought would be very common in movies by 2014; it's both (a) a joy to see her do this, and (b) a shame that such parts haven't become so common as to feel too familiar.

Tom Cruise, meanwhile, is very unfamiliar. In that first scene, Bill Cage tries to use his smile and winning charm, and it fails completely. Instead of being gung-ho and take-charge and dedicated to the greater good, he's scared and doesn't want to get his face shot off. Then he tries to run away (because Tom runs in every bloody film he stars in), and that doesn't go so well, either.

This inversion of cinematic tropes throws the viewer's expectations out the window, and it is one of life's grand pleasures to watch Tom "I'm in Charge" Cruise portray a totally incompetent scrub who scrapes by on luck rather than his looks or the superhuman talents given to him in all his other movies. It feels like therapy via film to watch him get schooled (and, best of all, killed) again and again and again. When Cage does start to figure out how to try to solve his problem, it's all the more impressive.

The extended cast gets limited use, but a particular standout is Bill Paxton. The confident and authoritative Master Sergeant Farell is a wonderfully-twisted version of his Private Hudson in Aliens. Every time I saw him launch into a speech about his troops and his rules and this war, I had an ear-to-ear grin. Hell, maybe I have a special fondness for Mr. Paxton, but I wouldn't want anyone else in that role - and I wish he had even more to do in this story.

It's also worth noting this not-unique story's unusual origin. EoT is based on a manga release that bore the name this movie was meant to have: All You Need Is Kill. In terms of a cool title, it's hard to beat something that riffs off of a great song by The Beatles. But the manga was itself based off of a very well-regarded Japanese science fiction novella of the same name. Several details were changed, sure, but the basic elements are all there, and it's dizzying to consider all the iterations this story went through before becoming a major motion picture.

Despite the similarity to Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow never feels like a retread of that tale. There is a vague romantic-ish subplot, but it doesn't dominate the story or overwhelm the arc of the leads. Better still, the way the repetitive concept is played just makes the movie feel like a riff on video games. Although I am a casual gamer now, it's a real treat to see Rita or Bill act like I do: rebooting when they don't do well enough in a particular gaming sequence; learning the patterns of attack in specific places and against certain enemies; trying to achieve the optimum result... but they struggle through the experience of watching someone die over and over.

One of the oddest things that I noticed was that Emily Blunt looks completely different here than she did in other movies I have seen. It's not even just that she doesn't look the same as she did in Looper, but that she looks like another person altogether. Specifically - when she's shown in profile - Blunt's nose, cheekbones, and mouth make her look a lot like Uma Thurman. Just watch the embedded videos here and tell me that I'm wrong.

I was so pleased by how the cast was used. I enjoyed the story and dialogue, the careful composition of each frame, and the immersive score and soundtrack. Also, I was tickled pink by watching Tom Cruise not play a natural alpha male, but rather someone who gets his ass handed to him - often. In many ways, this picture is a veritable Christmas present to film-goers.

Special notice should go to the cool ending credits sequence. For one thing, the up-tempo song that accompanies it ("Love Me Again" by John Newman) is a good tune, and makes a great impact here. For another, the visuals are highly-detailed images of futuristic weapons, which feels both appropriate to the subject matter and hearkens back to the manga that was its (secondary) source material. I didn't have much love for director Doug Liman before this, but I sure do now.

Edge of Tomorrow is a pure victory for audiences. It presents an exceptional example of the subgenre through the quality of its action scenes, well-written dialogue, a subversion of what viewers expect from Tom Cruise roles and female co-leads, and its sharp humor. If you want an energizing, funny, fun R-rated ride, then few other movies can offer you what this picture does. Climb on board as soon as you can.


  1. I totally loved this. Director Doug Liman executes this film with an exhilarating sense of fun, combining the gripping action sequences with a surprisingly sharp script and able performances from Cruise and especially Emily Blunt as one of the most kickass action heroes of any gender this year.

    1. Well said - I agree on all points. Emily Blunt really is the best here, and I'm amazed by the top-to-bottom quality in the production.

      I can't believe that I'm going to buy a Tom Cruise DVD, but here we are. The future is a strange place.


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