Sunday, June 8, 2014

"Edge of Tomorrow" (2014)

Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton
Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth
Directed by Doug Liman
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language, frightening images
Running Time: 113 Minutes

After a meteor strike in the middle of Germany unleashes an unstoppable alien force, the world's military might is on the brink. The "mimics" as they are known have taken over most of Europe, leaving only the UK on one side and Russia on the other. A major invasion is planned, with forces from the world's remaining military ready to storm Europe from all sides and meet in the middle.

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a former marketing exec essentially drafted after the start of the war, is now in charge of the media campaign to get volunteers to sign up for the invasion. But on the eve of battle, he's ordered by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to be embedded with the troops to document the invasion personally. He refuses, vehemently. He's arrested, charged as a deserter and dumped into a combat squad as a new recruit.

Unfortunately for Cage, he's no soldier - his rank is mostly honorary, he doesn't even know how to turn the safety off on his weapons. Within minutes of landing on the beach, it's obvious that the entire invasion is a failure. The mimics were somehow aware of the invasion plans, and every soldier on the beach is slaughtered - including Cage, who manages to die somewhat heroically by taking out an "Alpha," a rare sort of mimic. Its blood mixes with his and...

...he wakes up the previous morning, repeating the same events. Again and again and again, Cage goes into battle, is killed, and wakes up to do it all over. He soon meets Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), one of the few surviving heroes of the war who explains that she went through a similar experience earlier. Together, the two of them realize that knowledge of the future gives them the same advantage as the mimics - to keep at it until they get it right, and win the war.

Happy Groundhog Day!

"Edge of Tomorrow" comes from "Bourne Identity" director Doug Liman and "Usual Suspects" scripter Christopher McQuarrie, based on a Japanese novel. It's well made, well acted and really rather entertaining.

I've written before in this blog about Tom Cruise, and what he typically brings to a film. Like he did previously with "Jack Reacher," here Cruise plays a little bit with his action hero image. Right from the first scene, you know this is Tom Cruise - he flashes that winning smile, he's got the charm in spades but the interesting twist is that he's an absolute coward. He's so desperate not to see any battle, that he attempts to blackmail the general and eventually just to run away, to no avail. Over the course of the film, Cage grows more and more courageous trying to figure out ways not to save his own life but to save the lives of others and accomplish his objectives.

Likewise, Emily Blunt imbues Rita with a great deal of strength and drive. She's often the one pushing Cage to go further and farther, and she's the more capable warrior. Cruise and Blunt work very well together, and over the course of the film develop an easy chemistry that makes you root for them... to a point. One of the film's minor failings is how it rather obviously is attempting to create a budding romance between the two characters. It works better when it just seems like these are two fellow soldiers who care about each other, but going further than that feels hollow and forced.

The rest of the cast are all up to the task, but most of the characters are minor. They all get a moment here or there, especially Bill Paxton's hilarious Sergeant Farrell, but while they're all distinctive they're all ultimately pretty thin.

The script plays with its repetition conceit in much the same way as Bill Murray and Harold Ramis' modern classic "Groundhog Day" but with a sci-fi action movie twist. Cage and Rita use Cage's ability to reset the day to their own advantage, essentially treating each failed plan as a practice run until they get it right. They try different strategies, different routes, different weapons, all while Cage hones his combat skills. The script throws a couple of good twists in there for good measure, as well as a good bit of humor to keep things lively.

Liman directs the action sequences with a lot of energy. The initial invasion sequence is a harrowing bit of special effects work, like a sci-fi version of the D-Day sequence from "Saving Private Ryan." (In fact, the film is loaded with World War II references and homages). But that also means that a lot of the action sequences are fairly chaotic, and Liman isn't one to keep his camera all that steady. For that reason, I wouldn't recommend seeing "Edge of Tomorrow" in 3D. Things are just on the cusp of being confusing, but the stylized action sequences rarely get out of control.

If you're looking for a fun sci-fi actioner this summer, "Edge of Tomorrow" will do you well. It might not be the most original or the deepest summer blockbuster around, but... It's well acted, full of special effects and action and it's never boring. And it's never boring. And it's never boring.