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Josh Reviews Edge of Tomorrow

July 7th, 2014
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While humanity wages a bitter war against a race of alien invaders nicknamed the Mimics, Major William Cage works for the military as a television-friendly recruiter, encouraging young men and women to enlist in the fight.  But when he finds himself assigned to the front, Cage panics and tries to bribe his way out of his orders.  This backfires spectacularly, resulting in his being stripped of his rank and assigned to a unit of front-line grunts.  Despite his protestations, he’s strapped into an exo-suit, a complex piece of military hardware he hasn’t a clue how to operate, and is dropped into the thick of the counter-offensive against the aliens.  But the offensive is a catastrophe, the human forces are wiped out, and Cage is killed.  Then Cage wakes up and it’s the morning of that day, the day of the offensive.  He lives the whole day again only to find himself once again killed by the aliens.  And then he wakes up again back at the start of that same day.  Over and over again.

Based on the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill, the film Edge of Tomorrow (written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, and directed by Doug Liman) is very much a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day.  This is something of a double-edged sword, because while the idea of an action-packed, hard sci-fi version of Groundhog Day is a tantalizing idea and a juicy hook, it also gives the film’s structure a bit of a feeling of been-there, done that.  Groundhog Day is a phenomenal film, and I don’t think any film could tell that particular story any better than it does.

Luckily, while Edge of Tomorrow also tells the story of a self-centered jerk who learns to become a better man while living the same day over and over and over again, it’s different enough that, to me, it succeeds in standing on its own two feet as its own story.

In this film, the survival of humanity rests in Cage’s hands, as he must find a way to not only understand what is happening to him but also to use that to in some way defeat the seemingly unbeatable aliens.  That gives the film a narrative momentum, and it means that the intensity continues to raise after each of Cage’s repeated deaths after deaths after deaths.  It also means that, whereas in Groundhog Day the explanation for Phil’s being trapped in a time-loop was unimportant, here it is of critical importance that Cage discovers what is happening to him and why, and how he can find a way to control it.

Tom Cruise is great in the film.  As always, Mr. Cruise is a better actor than one might suspect based on his super-star celebrity status, and I continue to be impressed by the slightly off-the-beaten-path projects he selects to champion.  Edge of Tomorrow is a big mainstream action movie, no doubt, but it’s also a lot more interesting than most big mainstream action movies dare to consider being.

But while Mr. Cruise is great, what makes Edge of Tomorrow really sing is his chemistry with Emily Blunt, and the story of the relationship that Cage slowly builds with her character, the war-hero Sgt. Rita Vrataski.  I love the story of these two characters, and I was very taken by the way their connection became the emotional center of the film.  I love that this wasn’t overplayed and turned int some sort of romantic, sentimental hogwash.  I think the beats of their connection unfold in the film just right.  There’s a critical moment having to do with a helicopter, late in the film, that I found to be surprisingly heartbreaking.  That was not an emotional note I expected this movie to hit, and that’s when I realized that this was perhaps a better movie than I’d realized.

Emily Blunt has become a truly remarkable actress, able to play comedy (The Five Year Engagement) and drama (Your Sister’s Sister) and in this film she’s able to handle both, while also being a convincing physical bad-ass.  (I mention comedy, and while I definitely wouldn’t call this film a comedy, the are some moments of light-heartedness that help balance the tone of the story.  Both Mr. Crusie and Ms. Blunt handle those moments very effectively, never overplaying things in a way that would throw the audience out of the story.)

After Swingers, which was great, I can’t say I have been all that interested in the work of Doug Liman, but he puts in a very strong effort here.  He’s crafted a vey energetic, investing sci-fi/action tale.  I am quite impressed.  The action is terrific and the are some great visual effects sequences in the film.  I love the design of the Mimics, and the action sequences featuring those aliens wreaking havoc are quite effective.

The one place where the film falls down for me is in the final twenty-or-so minutes, when Cage and Vrataski suddenly become surprisingly invincible.  Even accepting that they have both become tremendously competent physical warriors after months or perhaps even years of reliving the very same day, we’ve still seen that the Mimics have always bested them.  They had to rely on the trickery of experiencing each moment of the day innumerable times to be able to outfox the Mimics.  But suddenly at the end, without the option of any further resurrections, they seem to be able to outwit and outfight scores of the aliens.  I don’t really buy it.

I will say, though, that the film’s last scene, and the very last shot, are pretty much perfect.  My good-will from that allows me to forgive many of my just-mentioned problems with the final act.

I wouldn’t declare Edge of Tomorrow to be a sci-fi masterpiece, but it’s a pretty great film and a rollicking adventure.  I wouldn’t say I LOVED it, but I sure liked the heck out of it.  It’s a fun ride that I’d enjoy seeing again.

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