Monday, June 9, 2014

Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Edge of Tomorrow is a very good movie. Is it a great one? No, it's got quite a few minor problems that, taken together, keep it from the ranks of Aliens, District 9, the first two Terminator movies, and other classic sci-fi action films. What it does do, however, is take a story that could have become incredibly convoluted and tell it in a straightforward, entertaining manner, with excellent performances by Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. It's what good summer popcorn entertainment should be -- crowd-pleasing action that doesn't insult the crowd's intelligence.

Tom Cruise plays Bill Cage, and despite his cool-sounding name, the man himself is anything but. He's a dirty coward of an officer who tries to weasel his way out of going to the front line, and gets himself demoted to a private for his troubles. Despite the fact that that's effectively a death sentence, when you see this guy you can't help but give a resounding thumbs-up to whoever made that decision, because Bill Cage is just that much of an asshole. Cruise was, to put it frankly, brilliant casting for this guy, given how divisive a figure the man is in real life, and he takes a huge step out of his wheelhouse to play a fundamentally unlikable prick, pulling it off so well that I couldn't wait to see Bill Cage get his just desserts. And he does. Over and over again, thanks to him coming into contact with the blood of an alien commander that clues him in on the aliens' little secret: they can travel back in time, thus anticipating every move the humans are going to make. This is why the aliens have been creaming the humans so badly -- they've fought every battle before and know the strengths and weaknesses of every army that comes to face them. And now Bill is plugged into that same time-travel system, living a Groundhog Day loop where, every time he dies, he wakes up at the start of the day back where he started, at Forward Base Heathrow with a tough sergeant telling him "on your feet, maggot!" Once he gets over the initial shock, he uses his new power as an opportunity to train, meeting up with famed soldier Rita Vrakaski (Emily Blunt), who, as it happens, also once had this power before losing it due to a blood transfusion. Together, they set out to use Bill's power to destroy the aliens where they live.

Or, to put it in a lot fewer words: Edge of Tomorrow is Groundhog Day in the guise of an alien invasion movie. It starts running into some plot holes towards the end as its story begins to pile up, but for most of its runtime, I was well-engaged, and most of it had to do with its great cast and director Doug Liman. I've already spoken at length about Cruise's performance, so I'll cap that off by saying that, once Bill stops being a coward and a douchebag, Cruise shows that he can still pull off the action heroes that have been his forte for quite some time now, as well as some surprising moments of great comedy. I shouldn't have been surprised, given that Liman had made Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a very good action-comedy that was doomed by history to be forever entangled in the "Brangelina" saga, but beneath this film's gritty exterior lays a mountain of sight gags and physical comedy that I didn't see coming. It was certainly a funnier movie than last week's A Million Ways to Die in the West, which was actually made as a comedy, though to be fair that's not a particularly high bar to clear. Finally, we have Emily Blunt as Rita Vrakaski. She could've easily played Rita as a one-note "white Michelle Rodriguez", but she imbues the character with a large number of hidden depths. While her character is quite justifiably flat (being reset, like the rest of the world, whenever Bill dies), we want to see her succeed just as much as Bill. And she is still a legitimate badass on top of it, easily being a match for Cruise and earning her in-universe nickname "Full Metal Bitch". Cruise and Blunt have great chemistry together, to the point where some of my favorite parts of this movie were often the action-free dramatic moments where it was just the two of them on screen. Bill's growing attachment to Rita is a major part of his development from an asshole into a real hero, and if it weren't for the two actors playing them, it and, by extension, the rest of this movie would have fallen flat.

This is especially important given that Liman's eye for action isn't quite as sure as his ability to shoot this film's comedy and drama. None of the action scenes were bad, but looking back, none of them ever really stood out. Liman falling into the shaky-cam trap that hurts many a promising action movie wasn't a surprise given that he had directed The Bourne Identity, the film that, for better or worse, popularized this trend in action cinematography. Unfortunately, he doesn't do it half as well as Paul Greengrass, the man who directed the Bourne sequels, and as a result most of this film's action scenes blended together, not helped by the fact that most of them took place on the same beach head. By the end of the film, the action had given me a headache from watching it. Furthermore, outside of Bill and Rita, most of this film's supporting cast is a collection of fairly one-dimensional jarheads and scientists who, again, pretty much blended together in my mind. A little more development for guys like Dr. Carter, the disgraced scientist who knows about the aliens' power and their "Omega" leader, or for some of the other soldiers would've gone a long way.

Score: 4 out of 5

It doesn't do everything right, but it still does most of the things that a good summer blockbuster should. Don't let your personal opinion of Tom Cruise keep you from checking out a really good sci-fi action movie.

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