Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

*** out of ****

Edge of Tomorrow is surprisingly engaging -and a rather accessible sci-fi action film. This is a movie filled with ideas and imagery, which will be familiar to fans of the genre. Its ad campaign communicates this so well that the movie may fail at the box office for looking generic. While the movie doesn’t contain anything dazzlingly new, I was reminded that any idea, no matter how familiar or original, requires a good sense of structure and internal logic to work. This is the saving grace of Edge of Tomorrow.

The story takes place in a world ravaged by a war with an alien race. Mechanized war suits have been built to combat the enemy’s speed and strength. A military spokesman, Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is cowardly forced into a battle where he is killed… and surprisingly wakes up to relive the 24 hours leading up to that battle… where he is killed again… and again. Realizing that this is the day the aliens will conquer humanity, he tries to find an alternative approach to beating them.

During the experience of this time loop, he meets a soldier named Rita (Emily Blunt), a.k.a. The Angel of Verdun, who was once victorious against these seemingly unstoppable beings. It helps that she was also once stuck in a time loop where she spent an eternity repeating the same battles while building skills until her ability to start over went away. The logic as to how the time loop works and where it comes from is best left to discovering through the movie.

The two soldiers work out a system where Will can use his time loop to meet Rita every day before the battle happens, re-explain his situation and work on new strategies. The battle is still lost again… and again… until they make a big discovery.

A lot of people have correctly labeled this movie, an action/sci-fi version of Groundhog Day, but it’s not the first time that’s happened. 2011’s Source Code – starring Jake Gyllenhaal - was a pretty gripping thriller about a man reliving the same ten minutes over and over on an ill-fated train. The unique angle I see with this film, is how it shows the time loop in the context of life becoming a videogame where you can die but start over at the beginning of an unbeatable level.

Given that this film is based on a Japanese illustrated novel (All You Need Is Kill) it is no surprise to me that the story deals with multiple abstract concepts. It’s like an anime movie, giving its audience a lot to think about. This story has to balance a future world of high-tech warfare, alien invasion and time travel. It’s a tad convoluted and potentially alienating, but it stays together -mostly due to a tight screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), Jez Butterworth and his co-writer brother, John-Henry.

A story about someone who can die without consequence has a lot of humorous possibilities and the filmmakers do not avoid them. Like in Groundhog Day, the editing is clever in establishing inevitable events so they can be skipped over when they’re implied to repeat. The actors make it work too. Tom Cruise knows how to humanize characters in physically strenuous situations. Apparently, Emily Blunt can too. She can do everything. I love her.

I wasn’t blown-away by the film, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. It seems a lot tidier in its execution than most of the blockbusters dished out recently. It has what it needs to be entertaining. If there was any element that failed to elevate the film, it was Christophe Beck’s effective, yet conventional sounding music score.

Before going into this movie, I wasn’t reassured that its director, Doug Liman, would have anything interesting to offer. I liked his first film, Swingers with Jon Favreau and I loved his second one, Go -a character-filled dark comedy about weird happenings surrounding the night of a rave. His early work was so fresh, that I was a little disappointed when the success he found with the first Bourne film trapped him in a world of entertaining, but less-daring big budget action movies. By the time he made the lousy Jumper starring Hayden Christensen and Jamie Bell, I was fed up with the path he'd taken.

Edge of Tomorrow may still be on that path, but Liman is still good when working with a competent cast, good writers and inspiring source material. This may be a timeline where Liman only makes action movies but maybe he could improve his career by zapping back in time, replacing Jumper with this movie and moving from there to projects that better suit his talents.

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