Edge of Tomorrow
(113 minutes, Rated PG-13)
As the 2014 summer seems to drag along, the public has been maltreated with countless dreck, solely designed to steal the hard earned cash of the viewers. Perhaps, there was some intention of enjoyment by the filmmakers, but for the most part, this summer has had its far share of stinkers: Godzilla, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Maleficent, and A Million Ways to Die in the West. However, Edge of Tomorrow is like the latest X-Men; while it is not on the same level of brilliance, the Tom Cruise vehicle has enough light-heartedness to balance out its somewhat serious tone. In fact, the movie knows how absurd the Groundhog Day premise is and uses that to its own benefit.
The plot follows Major Cage (Tom Cruise) as he is forced to relive the failed invasion of France repeatedly; this invasion is the human’s last effort to push the aliens back and retake Europe. With that said, this idea of time travel, which has been done countless times, benefits from good directing, great casting and some quality writing; yes, there are flaws, but the overall enjoyment helps the viewer to forget them.
And lets not be ignorant, this is a Tom Cruise vehicle; the idea that one man holds the key to saving the planet is an overused cliché, especially by him. However, this movie does not call for the atypical Cruise role; he eventually turns into the Ethan Hunt, Reacher or Maverick-like character. But for once the actor starts the film as utterly unlikable. In fact, Major Cage could be described as a weasel; the high-ranking officer is only in the army to spin the media and looks down upon the grunts that fight.
His high minded approach to superior officers is the only reason he gets implemented into the France invasion plan; and to be honest, the audience does not start liking Cage until they witness him die a few times. Once the visual gags begin, Cage develops into the atypical Cruise character that the actor has been playing for years. However, his ‘trial by fire’ growth is understandable and personally I found his unpleasant beginnings a change of pace in comparison to the ‘run of the mill’ action protagonist.
But the pure highlight of Edge of Tomorrow is the wonderful Emily Blunt as Rita, who has two of the coolest nicknames in cinema history. ‘The Angel of Verdun’ and ‘Full Metal Bitch’ seem cheesy, but the sayings perfectly encapsulate Blunt’s character. While she first appears as an uncaring ‘hardass,’ her attitude reflects a battle weary soldier; and it is quite refreshing to get this battle-hardened character in female form. Of course as the picture progresses, Rita begins to open up to Cage, but never fully; her hesitation reflects a person who has lost too many and adds a layer of depth to what could have been a one dimensional role.
Either way, she still would have been an incredibly ‘badass’ character because of Emily Blunt: she constantly steals scenes and the running gag where she kills Cage to restart the day, hilariously shows her tenacity. But it also helps that the two leads have incredible chemistry; Cruise’s past films like Knight and Day failed due to his lack of rapport with Cameron Diaz. But the relationship between Rita and Cage is different because it develops out of habit; though Cage has the power, he needs Rita just as much as she needs him. And while the audience expects the relationship to develop between the two, at least the romance is given a solid foundation, which aids the believability.
With that said, the rest of the cast is rounded out poorly; the audience is treated with either one-dimensional characters who are meant to die, or under utilized roles. The biggest example of the former is Cage’s unit called ‘J Squad;’ every single soldier is a cardboard cutout that is supposed to be fodder for the aliens. And even though this is intentional, the seemingly cool traits they could have had was wasted with dumb one-liners and grunting noises.
Furthermore, the wildly entertaining Bill Paxton as Master Sergeant Farell has a major role in the first act, but slowly disappears as the movie progresses; while I understand that Edge of Tomorrow’s crisp 113 minute pace did not allow the inclusion of his character, I wished that the writers did more with him. Instead his absence results in the very rambunctious Farell being all bark and no bite. Last is Brendan Gleeson’s General Brigham, who does not grow at all; yes, he appropriately responds to Cage’s attitude in act one, but at the end, his stubbornness is more of a plot point designed to blockade the leads from their goal. It just felt odd that the General accepts the idea of an alien invasion, but draws the line at time travel.
But even with those complaints, one has to admit that Edge of Tomorrow could have been the ‘run of the mill’ summer blockbuster: in less capable hands this would have been a very bland picture. And though Doug Liman has directed crap like Jumper, the man has always had a distinct style. And this style can be seen with the battles; besides the actual look of the France invasion, which is blatantly a futuristic version of D-Day, the way the battles are shot correlates with Cruise’s character. For instance, when the inexperienced Cage is first dropped down on the beach, the camera set up causes the audience to feel anxiety and out of place: which is just how our avatar feels. And as the lead develops into the alien fighting hero, the camera work speeds up to reflect it.
On top of manipulating the viewers, the action, as well as, the dropship sequence is properly shot with an intense feeling of dread. But again, this serious tone is counter balanced with the self-aware humor of Cage’s death; the humor does not hinder the impact of the violence and vice versa. This perfect balance shows that Liman is a master of his craft; and personally, I cannot wait to see his Splinter Cell movie with Tom Hardy.
As for the visual effects, the Mech Suits look unbelievably awesome; the sound design mixed with their smooth movement works perfectly. It did not aggressively push the movie into the future; even though the idea is futuristic, the design feels grounded in some sort of reality. Also, the difference between a normal soldier and the Special Forces further establishes this realism; Rita’s quick fluid movement sets her apart, while also making her action scenes aesthetically pleasing.
However, the designs of the aliens leave a lot to be desired; the everyday alien seems like a rejected model from The Matrix Revolutions. And the bigger ‘Alpha monsters’ seem like a cross between the Matrix machine and the tentacle creature from the original Hellboy. The aliens’ mish mash designs feel dated and unimaginative; besides the up close look at the ‘Alpha,’ the inability to get a clear glimpse at the other aliens reflects the idea that the filmmakers knew that this was their weakest aspect.
Now, the writing is what could sink or save a time travel movie; this Groundhog Day approach has been done countless times, but luckily the fantastically directed action and an above average storyline results in the best time travel flick since 2012s Looper. Again, it is not on the same level as Rian Johnson’s flick, but this has smart writing that should be credited. The aforementioned mixture of action, drama, and comedy results in a fantastic pace; there are no lulls in the 113 minute runtime.
Furthermore, story elements, like how Cage got the time loop power or the second act’s ‘red herring,’ are exquisitely executed and cause a constant feeling of freshness. Also, Cage’s cluelessness results in seamless exposition, which never feels forced and out of place. The three writers Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth blended known elements of science fiction, but somehow maintained a constant element of surprise. Well that is until its ending; the beautifully shot ‘trial and error’ plot device leads to an engaging final set piece, which is then reduced by its Source Code-like happy ending. While I am not saying this needs a direly depressing ending, the finale shows that the writers wrote themselves in a corner; and they used a ‘cookie cutter’ ending to tie Edge of Tomorrow in a pretty bow.
In the end, this Tom Cruise vehicle wonderfully entertains for 113 minutes; it will not win any awards for originality, but the film makes up for it with its self-aware nature and gorgeous visuals. I cannot deny that there are problems with Edge of Tomorrow, but this flick filled a void that was caused by the egregious 2014 summer blockbusters. All of its faults can be forgiven when talking about the above average writing, superb direction, and splendid leads. I look forward to seeing Blunt in more leading roles and hope that the success of this can allow Cruise to get back on track; his last three films have hurt his stock, but this shows that he is still as charming as his younger days. As anyone can see, I had a great time with this and recommend Edge of Tomorrow to all who want a little bit more out of their summer action flicks.