June 05, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Edge of Tomorrow

SCIENCE FICTION/ACTION:

United States/Australia, 2014

U.S. Release Date:

2014-06-06

Running Length:

1:53

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Sci-Fi Action and Violence)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Noah Taylor

Director:

Doug Liman

Screenplay:

Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth, based on "All You Need Is Kill" by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Cinematography:

Dion Beebe

Music:

Christophe Beck

U.S. Distributor:

Warner Brothers

Subtitles:

none


As improbable a concoction as it might seem, Edge of Tomorrow is a curious mix of ingredients from the 1993 Harold Ramis/Bill Murray comedy, Groundhog Day, and James Cameron's 1986 sequel to Alien. An Earth-versus-aliens tale set in the near future, Edge of Tomorrow offers a time travel twist to its proceedings. Unlike many movies that toy with journeys through the fourth dimension, this one doesn't dwell on paradoxes and, at least until a tacked-on epilogue, plays by its own rules. Like last year's Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow gives Tom Cruise an opportunity to play an action/hero role in a science fiction playground. Because the script is smarter (based on a Japanese graphic novel called "All You Need is Kill" by Hiroshi Sakurazaka), Edge of Tomorrow offers a more satisfying cinematic experience than Oblivion.

Edge of Tomorrow uses the popular faux news footage montage to set up the story. Earth has been invaded by extraterrestrials dubbed the "mimics" and all of Europe is in enemy hands. After losing battle after battle, the United Defense Forces have finally scored a victory at Verdun. Emboldened by the army's success, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) has decided on an all-out assault led by war hero and media darling, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). To "sell" the attack to the planet, Brigham enlists the talents of army publicist Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), who he intends to send to the front line with a camera crew. Cage, unwilling to put his life on the line, refuses the direct order and ends up being busted in rank on trumped up charges, thrown into an infantry unit, and sent into the thick of the fighting.

When set upon by a member of a special mimic subspecies, Cage uses an explosive to destroy the creature. In the process, he kills himself… then awakens back at the beginning of his ordeal and has to endure the entire day another time. He dies again, is reborn again, and the cycle persists. It's déjà vu without end. Each time, Cage is able to use his memories of the battle to survive longer, until he eventually contacts Rita and learns that she knows something about his situation. "Come find me when you wake up," she tells him before they are both killed.

Few things in a movie can get older faster than repetition. No one wants to watch the same scene, even with variations, over and over and over. To overcome this hurdle, director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) borrows some of the tricks employed by Ramis in Groundhog Day - showing just enough of a scene to make it clear we're in another iteration of the loop, then skipping ahead to the point when things start to change. This keeps everything flowing and discourages a flagging of the momentum. It also allows for moments of gallows humor. Those who don't care for Tom Cruise may derive some satisfaction from this aspect of the screenplay: Cage is killed several hundred times during the course of Edge of Tomorrow. Visually, the film, which transpires in London, has its share of impressive moments, although the special effects don't completely dominate. The 3-D makes good use of spatial relationships but unfortunately degrades the darker scenes.

The main thrust of Edge of Tomorrow focuses on Cage's use of his immortality/time reset ability to locate the aliens' "brain" and find a way to win the war. That's straightforward; what's more subtle and potentially more interesting is how the relationship between Cage and Rita develops. Each time they meet, Rita's interaction with Cage is reset from her perspective. She doesn't know him. For him, however, it's the continuation of a growing relationship. He becomes familiar with her to the point where he develops deep feelings. For her, however, he's always a stranger. The growing disparity between how they view each other fuels their interplay later in the story. Reticence conflicts with intimacy.

The part of Cage is in Cruise's wheelhouse; he could probably do this kind of role in his sleep. The one out on a limb is Emily Blunt, whose kick-ass interpretation of Rita recalls a couple of strong James Cameron heroines: Sigourney Weaver's Ripley and Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor. Blunt, who often does "softer" roles, is credible as the Hero of Verdun. Brendan Gleeson, as the general in charge of the war, and Bill Paxton, as Cage's commanding officer, are both excellent in supporting roles.

Movies that employ time travel as a plot device often become exercises in mental agility. That's not the case with Edge of Tomorrow, which uses a straightforward approach. The explanation for Cage's ability is explained in a clear, uncluttered fashion and the manner in which his days unfold are no more confusing than those in Groundhog Day. There's plenty of action and, despite the fact that much of it is repeated, it never becomes repetitive. Edge of Tomorrow is clever enough that the viewer doesn't have to feel embarrassed sitting in the audience but not so clever that there's no fun to be had.

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