Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Directed by Doug Liman; Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson.

Rating: 4/5

When the trailers for Edge of Tomorrow first appeared, they deceptively showcased a generic sci-fi blockbuster awash in a flood of similar fare with zippy names like Divergent or Transcendence. It didn’t stand out. A friend quipped that someone should just invent a mech-suit so people don’t have to keep making movies about them.

I could see where he was coming from – we’ve seen it all before in Elysium (2013), Avatar (2009), District 9 (2009), The Matrix Revolutions (2003) and even Aliens (1986). Meanwhile, what appeared to be a sci-fi D-Day scene caused my brother to dismiss the film as Saving Private Ryan (1998) with aliens. This is absolutely true; there’s no coincidence that Edge of Tomorrow was released the week of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

So it seems derivative, but it is surprisingly creative. It manages to bring the best of these elements together and successfully decant them into what is, after all, an original film. It’s not a sequel to anything else, it’s not part of a franchise, and that’s always something to be happy about. It comes from director Doug Liman, who has directed many original action and sci-fi films, including The Bourne Identity (2002), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) and Jumper (2008).

As suggested, the conflict is evocative of the world wars (including both the D-Day landings and references to a decisive battle at Verdun) with a futuristic twist. An alien menace has decimated Europe and is poised to invade the United Kingdom, and we’re thrown into the action on the eve of the last desperate attempt by NATO to push back into France.

Tom Cruise stars as Major William Cage, showing us once again that he still knows how to star in a blockbuster. Cage is not a real soldier; he’s a PR man who thinks he’s there to sell the war to the public. He begins with typical Cruise charm and confidence, which then shatters when he’s sent to the front line by NATO commander General Brigham (Brendon Gleeson, the first we see of the film’s solid supporting cast).

He ends up in a squad of oddballs (squadballs?) under Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton, who was in Aliens). Everyone has mech-suits, because it’s the future and it’s cool. Cage can barely operate his, and swiftly ends up on the receiving end of an alien mandible. The alien special effects are high quality; they are scary, inhuman and move smoothly but unpredictably.

But it’s not all over, he’s entered a time loop, which resets to the night before the battle each time Cage is killed in action, which he is, again and again. Ultimately, he is able to use this ability to turn the tide of the battle and the war by incrementally improving each day, both by developing his skills and finding out how to beat the aliens.

However, he couldn’t do a thing without Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who was doing the same thing until she lost the ability. She’s a believably hardened veteran, and a hyper-competent warrior compared to the initially bumbling Cage. Though Cruise is the star, she takes the lead in the developing relationship between the two characters, even if he has to meet her for the first time every day.

The time loop inevitably draws comparisons further potential source material, in this case the classic Groundhog Day (1994). It’s also evocative of playing a video game; loading from a previous save point and attempting to beat the same impossible level over and over.

The film plays off the natural humour created by such a scenario, but it is often very dark, as Cage must die each time to reset the loop. Yet the humour works well and is perfectly balanced with the action and desperation of the larger campaign.

Edge of Tomorrow is based on a popular Japanese novella called All You Need is Kill, and some of the aesthetics, including the mech-suits and Vrataski’s impossibly huge sword evoke this origin. There’s another nod when the incompetent Cage gets his suit’s language stuck in Japanese.

Indeed, it is a global film, not just the American affair featuring Tom Cruise that it might have been. There are plenty of European actors, including Blunt, Gleeson and many of Cage’s squad. The opening sets the scene quickly with a composite of BBC News footage, and the film is exclusively set in England and France, with deserted, destroyed and military occupied scenes of London and Paris among the most powerful. 

Cage’s character development is an excellent deconstruction of what we expect from Cruise as an actor. He starts out with a confidence built on cowardice, but is thrown completely out of his comfort zone. Over the rest of the film, the character works hard to attain a typical Tom Cruise level of action hero, which he doesn’t attain until the climax.

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