Director Doug Liman’s Sci-Fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow finds the world at war with an alien race known as Mimics. The Mimics have invaded Earth and laid waste to most of Europe. As the Mimics head toward the United Kingdom to continue their path of destruction, the United Defense Force is preparing a major offensive on the shores of France in an effort to halt the offensive.
War is always a tough sell to the masses, but Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) has used his megawatt smile and killer charm to effectively do so. His slick ways have also helped him avoid taking part in any sort of actual combat against the Mimics.
When Cage is informed by a general named Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) that his next round of winning the hearts and minds involves being sent to the frontlines of the upcoming battle to cover it, Cage tries his best to worm his way out. He even goes as far as to attempt to blackmail Brigham, a move that backfires spectacularly. Cage winds up being arrested, stripped of his rank and thrown right into the middle of battle where he lasts less than five minutes before the Mimics kill him.
Prior to biting the dust, Cage manages to kill a Mimic with an explosive and winds up ingesting some of the alien’s blood (basically it melts through Cage’s face). Because of this, Cage finds himself stuck in an endless loop that forces him to relive the past twenty-four hours over and over again (the restart occurs whenever Cage dies).
Cage isn’t the only person to experience this extreme case of deja vu. The military’s ace soldier, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) had the same thing happen on her first day of combat as well. She offers to help Cage sharpen his fighting skills in the hopes that he may be able to find a way to get past the battle on the shores of France, destroy the enemy and stop the war.
Most summer movie blockbusters offer up two things: high concept and low viewer satisfaction. This summer we have had three such cases: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Maleficent and Godzilla. I have no doubt there will be plenty more by Labor Day. With each passing year it seems that films ratchet up the spectacle, sound and fury at the expense of decent characters and plots that work. Don’t get me wrong; it is great to relax and enjoy a little cinematic junk food during the summer i.e. Fast & Furious 6. But having it non-stop for three months is enough to make you nauseous for the rest of the year.
Edge of Tomorrow is unabashedly a Science-Fiction variation on Groundhog Day with elements of Starship Troopers, Aliens, Saving Private Ryan and a first-person shooter videogame such as Call of Duty or Gears of War (live, fight, die, start the level over, etc.) thrown in for good measure. It’s a cinematic recipe that could hardly be considered original or enticing; a facet amplified by the truly awful ad campaign the film’s distributor Warner Brothers has cobbled together over the past few months.
With a budget close to $180 million, does Edge of Tomorrow offer up the visual eye candy and not much else? Much to my borderline shock the film turned out to be anything but a dud. Thanks to a cast and crew who take a concept and run like hell with it, Edge of Tomorrow turns out not only to be the best film of the summer so far, it’s easily one of the best of 2014.
Liman, whose output has been soul-crushingly disappointing over the past dozen years, returns to the type of focused, confident filmmaking he displayed in 1999’s Go and 2002’s The Bourne Identity. With the help of a smart, darkly funny screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, John-Henry and Jez Butterworth, Liman keeps the “live, die, repeat” aspect of Cage’s situation fresh by throwing curve balls at the audience at every opportunity without boring or confusing them. The battle scenes are expertly handled and photographed, the film’s pacing never falters thanks to some deft editing and perhaps best of all, the characters never become overshadowed by the visual pyrotechnics and effects.
This movie has had a lot of obstacles to overcome in its journey to movie screens worldwide. In addition to the recognizable storytelling elements and crap ad campaign, there is the film’s star and the public’s perception of him. When it comes to Tom Cruise starring in a movie, I have no issue whatsoever. Many out there in movie land, however, do thanks to that couch-jumping, career-derailing period from the middle of the last decade. It wouldn’t surprise me if that long-standing animosity helped sink this film at the box office during its premiere weekend. It’s a shame that people can’t separate the two personas, because Cruise is one of the last honest-to-goodness, reliable movie stars we have working in Hollywood today.
While the 51-year old has starred in his fair share of iffy-to-awful projects over the past decade or so such as Oblivion, Valkyrie and Rock of Ages, his acting has always been somewhat commendable. Cruise’s performance in Edge is more than laudable; it’s downright worthy of high praise. Playing a smarmy coward is something different for him onscreen. It gives him a vulnerability that makes him more relatable to the viewer and it’s one that helps his character arc convince. Cruise also displays a comic timing we haven’t seen too much of either. With a lesser degree of his usual intensity, Cruise gives us a spirited and convincing performance that easily shoulders the massive production.
While Cruise is the front and center of the production, the rest of the cast is also worthy of high praise. Bill Paxton is great fun as a tough-as-nails sergeant while Gleeson in his brief role is convincing as a general you wouldn’t want to screw with. But the real standout in the supporting cast is, of course, the person who shares the most screen time with Cruise: Emily Blunt. No damsel-in-distress waiting for Cruise to save both her and the day, Blunt plays a variation of the Ripley character from the Alien films and makes for a commanding action heroine. Not bad for an actress who vowed nine years ago in an interview that never to play “a spear carrier in a Tom Cruise movie”.
Edge of Tomorrow was originally called All You Need Is Kill but could easily have been called Redemption. Not just because of Cage’s redemption as a human being but also because this film offers up career redemption for both Liman and Cruise, both in desperate need for a quality project. It has everything you want from a big summer movie and even a little more. I seriously doubt we are going to get another blockbuster this summer, perhaps even the entire year, as accomplished or entertaining as this one. Forget the ads, forget the dumb title and just go have some ridiculous fun.
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