Sunday, June 8, 2014

Hitting the Reset Button with Edge of Tomorrow

     It's time to give Tom Cruise a break: ever since the infamous dance on Oprah's couch, viewers have dismissed his work. But he's actually produced a few really entertaining movies--Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and last year's sci-fi pic Oblivion to name two--in the past four years. This week's Edge of Tomorrow is a yet another showcase of entertainment in a science fiction setting. Tom Cruise's image died in the media's eyes (with his strange antics and batshit-insane Scientology beliefs) years ago, so it's fitting that in Edge of Tomorrow he dies over and over and over again, occasionally in comic fashion for our pleasure. It might not be a total career rebirth, but it's another step in the right direction for a guy who was once America's biggest movie star.
     It's impossible to write or speak about Edge of Tomorrow without mentioning the obvious connections to Bill Murray's comedy classic Groundhog Day (and to a lesser extent, 2011's underrated Source Code). But Edge of Tomorrow never suffers from the similarities--if anything it thrives with them. The film begins in typical apocalyptic movie fashion: images of destruction and war and an unknown alien force flash across news screens, as Cruise's character (Maj. William Cage) spins a PR campaign with every reporter and newscaster for a pro-military intervention against the unknown force. Cage's biggest character flaw (and one of his biggest fears) is being involved in actual combat. So when a cocky general (portrayed by the great Brendan Gleeson) forces him to go to the front lines, Cage resists, is tasered, and wakes up in handcuffs at a military base near where a D-Day-style beach storming is about to happen the next day.
      Cage gets thrown into battle, a chaotic storm of bullets, mech suits, bombs and lightning-fast slithering aliens called Mimics, only to die quickly, covered in an exploded Mimic's blood. But then he wakes up, handcuffed again, at the military base the day before. He meets the same people, gets harassed by the same Sergeant (a having-fun Bill Paxton), and gets thrown into the same group of soldiers. Only to go back into battle and die again. Wake up, die. Learn a little more. Wake up. Die. Learn a little more. Repeat. On the battlefield he meets Rita (Emily Blunt as a kick-ass heroine), the public face of the assault on the aliens, who seems to know what is happening to Cage. She tells Cruise to come find her when he wakes up, and this interaction sets in motion the majority of the mind-bending film.
     Edge of Tomorrow is skillfully directed by Doug Liman (probably best known for The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith), and he barely lets you catch your breath as Cage and Rita try and figure out a way to take out the frightening aliens. Like many battles against extraterrestrials, there is something of a "hive queen" (to quote directly from Ender's Game) that controls the entire horde through a complex system of brainwaves/telepathy/etc. Cage (who, because he was doused in the blood of a Mimic, has certain special powers) and Rita must find the brain of the operation and take it down before the large number of Alien minions threatens the entire human race--starting with the beach invasion that always ends in a massacre now matter how many times Cage lives and dies. The action and special effects in Edge of Tomorrow are top notch, and Cruise--with his determination--and Blunt--with her fortitude at showing emotion while destroying alien scum--propel the film past watchable into something much better.
     Sure, in a film where the main character has to live the same day over and over again (maybe for thousands and thousands of times--you never really find out) there are going to be plot holes and derivative scenes that seem too familiar. Even the title sucks: Edge of Tomorrow. It was originally titled All You Need is Kill, the same name of the Japanese graphic novel which it is based. But who cares? This is an original film (not a sequel or reboot) that is imaginative and exciting in a sea of films which are the opposite of that. And by the looks of the blockbusters coming out in the next three months, it might be one of the best of the summer.     (B+)

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