Friday, June 6, 2014

“Edge of Tomorrow” – Love him or hate him, this is the Tom Cruise movie for you.

If there was one movie I was really looking forward to seeing this summer, it was X-Men: Days of Future Past. I mean, come on, after fourteen years and six movies, they finally made the movie all X-Men fans have been asking for. If there was a second movie I’ve really been looking forward to, it isn’t Guardians of the Galaxy. For reasons I don’t understand, it’s getting a lot of buzz even though I have yet to meet a person who had heard of it prior to the movie announcement and the trailers aren’t really doing it any favors either. From what I can tell, a tree, a raccoon, a green lady, and two other guys fly a space ship and crack jokes. Don’t get me wrong – I’m interested in seeing it, but not because I’m excited about it, just curious. The movie I was most excited to see, after X-Men of course (multiple times – yeah, I’m a geek), was Edge of Tomorrow. Other than being a big science fiction fan, the trailers promised Tom Cruise dying. A lot. Who wouldn’t be excited about that?

I’m not a big fan of Cruise, but he has yet to star in a science fiction film I didn’t like. And by science fiction films, I mean hard core science fiction films like Minority Report, not fluffy science fiction like Transformers. I really enjoyed last year’s Oblivion, a movie that was severely underrated, and when I saw the first trailers for Edge of Tomorrow, my brain could literally only form one word – Aaaaawesome.

(Minimal spoilers coming, but I will do my best not to give away more than is necessary since I really think you should see this movie.)

Edge of Tomorrow is best described as a cross between Battle: Los Angeles and Groundhog Day. The world we are thrown into is an Earth in which a meteor carrying aliens has crashed into the planet and the aliens have taken over almost all of Europe. In response, the humans have developed a powered exo-suit for the foot soldiers and, with it, finally win their first battle. Believing they have taken the upper hand in the war, they plan a massive invasion of Europe (mixing in a little The Longest Day). Tom Cruise plays Major Cage, an advertising specialist with no combat experience who is ordered take part in the invasion as an embedded journalist, capturing video of the presumed victory. In what is the first of several scenes that are against character for Tom Cruise roles, Cage tries everything he can to get out of the duty, including an attempt at blackmailing General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), the officer give him the orders. Brigham has Cage arrested, knocked out, and dumps Cage at the pending invasion’s forward operating base, telling Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) that Cage is a deserter impersonating an officer. At this point, anyone who has waited for a movie to bring a Cruise character down a notch or ten will be smiling so big the top of their head might fall off.

Before I move on, I want to mention that the scene where Cruise is in the general’s office trying to weasel his way out of the assignment is arguably the best acting Cruise has done in a long time. It immediately establishes that Cruise is playing a different character than he normally does and you really believe that he is that much of a coward. Not only is the dialogue delivered with a perfect mix of slimy salesman followed by fear and desperation, but his facial expressions and body language match the emotions perfectly. It’s almost as if director Doug Liman forced Cruise to watch Jerry Maguire and A Few Good Men to remind Cruise that not every role is Ethan Hunt and Cruise listened.

After more humiliation at the hands of Farrell and Cage’s new squad mates (J-Squad), the next day comes, the invasion starts, and the best scene of the movie commences. Cage has never operated the exo-suit and a running joke about the weapon safety punctuates his ineptitude as a soldier. From the get-go, the invasion goes horribly wrong as it was planned as a surprise, but ends up nothing of the sort. As bullets fly, soldiers fall, and explosions rock the beach, Cage stumbles through the last three minutes of his life. The scene is beautifully constructed, mixing the chaos of a massive battle with more intimate shots of single soldiers and alien combatants (extremely fast moving, multi-legged creatures whizzing through the shots and best described as giant buzz-saws or ninja stars). Much like Groundhog Day, this scene has to be fully walked through because we’re going to see components of it many more times. Completing the analogy, Cage wakes up the day before the invasion, sitting on the tarmac just before meeting Sergeant Farrell.

Where this film differs from Groundhog Day (honestly, it’s different in every way except the concept) is that Cage must die in order for the day to repeat. I won’t spoil how that comes to be, but it’s important because it’s the premise of the film and it’s extremely important to the plot. During the battle, we also meet Sergeant Rita Vratawski (Emily Blunt), the hero of the human’s earlier victory and the symbol of their hope. Wielding a giant machete attached to a baseball bat handle, she is the embodiment of death and destruction, carving her way through multiple alien foes. For some reason (other than Blunt is stunning in this film), Cage is drawn to her and after several iterations of the day, she recognizes his power and instructs him to find her when he resets again. She reveals that she also had the power for a time, but lost it when she didn’t die and day rolled over (at this point, you say “Ohhhhhhhhh”). With a little help from a physicist posing as a mechanic, they come up with a plan to change the day and I’m not going to tell you any more.

What I love about movies like this (and Groundhog Day and Source Code) is that the screenwriters, producers, and director have to pay attention to small details in every scene because if the continuity is broken, the audience can’t suspend their disbelief and the movie falls apart. It’s important that each successive scene looks and occurs as it did before and only changes because the main character does something different. Not only does Liman and crew do an excellent job with this very thing, but they manage to keep the movie from becoming monotonous by altering the length of some repeating scenes, while lengthening others. At no point did I find myself tired of the repetition, quite the opposite in fact as I looked forward to what would happen next.

With all of the sequels and superhero movies clogging up the summer, it’s nice to get a movie like Edge of Tomorrow that feels original and isn’t just treading well-worn paths. I also think that Emily Blunt is making a very strong case as a bona fide female action lead as she carries this film more than Cruise (though I hope she sticks with sci-fi thrillers such as this and Looper and doesn’t get sucked into silly shit like Mr. and Mrs. Smith). But, if none of that is reason enough to see this film, how about this – Blunt gets to shoot Cruise in the face. A lot.

Rating: Worth twelve dollars more than what you paid for it. Just admit it – you’d pay full price to see Cruise die once in a film let alone hundreds.

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