Thursday, June 5, 2014

“EDGE OF TOMORROW” WILL LEAVE YOU ON THE EDGE OF YOUR SEAT.

If you were to ask someone “what would you get if you crossed Groundhog Day (1993) with Mecha Anime[?]”, one of the most unlikely responses you’re liable to get is “a kick-ass Tom Cruise vehicle”; yet that is exactly what you get with Edge of Tomorrow.
 
Based on the Hiroshi Sakurzzaka novel ”All You Need Is Kill”, the story takes place, in what is implied through the use of real life cable news anchor cameos, to be the near future.  A race of aliens, known as “Mimics” (due to their ability to copy and anticipate military battle strategies), have overrun and decimated most of Europe.  However, despite their seeming invincibility, a series of successes effectuated by Special Forces solider Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) bolster the war effort to the extent that a final assault to eradicate the threat once and for all is planned.  Self-aggrandizing, cowardly advertising executive Major William Cage (Cruise) is ordered by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to film the battle at the front lines. When he tries to charm his way out of said duty, he is forcefully subdued and sent to the front lines as an infantryman and falsely identified as a deserter, much to the delight of J-Squad infantry unit leader Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton, whose presence, along with the set-up of J-Squad, heavily recalls Aliens (1986)). Terrified and way out-of-depth his depth, Cage is killed within five minutes upon arrival at the battlefront; but not before kills a rare, large blue-alien known as an “Alpha”.  Upon his death, he “resets” back to the present day. The character is well named as he is “caged” in a Ragnarokian time loop as time resets itself upon his death(s).*  It’s not until he saves Vrataski’s life that Cage begins to unravel the mystery of his condition and use his newfound power to aid in the war effort.
 
The advance trailers for the film depicted a bleak dystopian future, filled with the oppressive, hopeless desolation that has become the hallmark of modern sci-fi actioners. However, what sets this film apart is that it balances the proceedings with a healthy sense of humor due in no small part to Doug Liman’s direction and Cruise, who’s given the opportunity to poke fun at his own acting clichés (a scene where he repeatedly flashes his pearly-white chompers is especially amusing) and makes the humorous most of the film’s “videogame reset” conceit (thus preventing the trope from becoming tiresome). Eventually, he defaults into his “dependable action-hero” persona, but he is effective in this playing-against-type turn.  In any event, the film shows that Cruise still has a few more “action hero” years left in him.
 
The film’s true star, however, is Emily Blunt, the resident "Valkyrie" who makes “The Angel of Verdun” a compelling, complex character; she is both dangerous and vulnerable all at once, and Blunt and Cruise share a great give-and-take dynamic. Credit must be given to Cruise in the fact that he knows when to dominate a scene and when to let his costar shine, which Blunt does. In their respective roles, both Gleeson and Paxton are stubbornly gruff, but Paxton is (in a rare case) especially entertaining; almost stealing every scene he appears in. 
 
Both the visual effects and cinematography are top notch; a gritty realism permeates each frame despite the fantastical nature of the elements.  Like last year’s Pacific Rim, it is an anime come to life; however, one that is slightly more convincing and, dare I say, compelling. The aliens are disquieting, tentacled monsters reminiscent of the robots in the Matrix films, and the battle suits are sufficiently convincing. Christopher Beck’s score is by turns pulse pounding and insidious, effectively highlighting both the action and the suspense.
 
The script, by Dante Harper (uncredited), Christopher McQuarrie, Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, is surprisingly clever, catching the viewer unawares with certain revelations via dialogue throughout the film.  If there’s any weakness, it’s in the third act, where the lighting and editing make for a more muted visual experience.  Some might find the ending a bit pat but, given the bleakness in most summer blockbusters to date, it’s rather refreshing.
 
A clever script, heavy action, humor, and solid performances blend to make Edge of Tomorrow better than it should be. It is a highly enjoyable film that carries dramatic heft but does not take itself too seriously, and one that merits big screen viewing. You’ll LIVE through the action, you won’t DIE of boredom, and you’ll want REPEAT viewing.
 
 *Special thanks to Ian Morris for the analogical assist.

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