Sunday, June 8, 2014

"Edge of Tomorrow"

 3.5 / 5 

If rampaging, villainous aliens ever do come to Earth to take over and rule the planet, we will know what to do: Look for the mother ship/queen alien/hive brain/controlling entity and attack it first.  It will be there.  I am sure of it.

I know this because Edge of Tomorrow, like countless films before it, promises that this is the way alien minds work.  Yes, they seem terrifying and insurmountable, but in fact they are easily and quickly destroyed with one or two grenades thrown into the mouth/lair/hive/control room of that single massive creature.

Hey, wait!  Isn't that a spoiler?  Only if you've never, ever seen a science-fiction film before.  Assuming you have, not to worry: The good news is that for the majority of its running time, Edge of Tomorrow is wonderfully fresh and intriguing, despite a "high concept" storyline that can best be described (in the way Hollywood prefers) with one line that recalls other successful movies:

Edge of Tomorrow is Saving Private Ryan meets Groundhog Day with some Starship Troopers and Alien thrown in for good measure.

There's a rather heavy sense of dèjá vu to the film that makes it all feel old yet remarkably new, like the biggest, best 1980s star-powered action movie that never got made.

It could be Arnold or Sly or Harrison Ford in the lead, but rather it's Tom Cruise, who would have been too young to play the role thirty years ago and now seems just ever so slightly too old.  The script dances around this nicely, because the story requires Cruise's character, William Cage, to be a private in the armed forces, and even if the military reinstated the draft there probably wouldn't be many 50-something privates.  So, the movie smartly imagines Cruise as a senior PR type who is camera ready but can't imagine the idea of combat.

Nonethless, he's thrust into the middle of a war between Earthlings and a vicious, nasty set of aliens called (for no apparent reason) Mimics.  Cowardly, panicky and utterly unprepared for war, Cruise finds himself on a sortie that will end in calamitous defeat.  It's the sci-fi version of Saving Private Ryan's beach battle, a futuristic D-Day in which Cruise is killed almost immediately.

Except that something happens -- something that will, rest assured, be explained, and that sets Cruise's character on a path that's not at all dissimilar to Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, but with many more explosions and a substantially increased body count.  As he relives the day over and over and over, Cruise gains expertise; the way he racks up experience points makes Edge of Tomorrow feel much like a big-screen, non-interactive video game in which the hero can't be killed, he can only pick up right where he started and move on, putting to use everything he has learned.

Along the way, he meets a female soldier (Emily Blunt) who is best known as "The Angel of Verdun" -- she's the reason humans were able to score a rare victory against the Mimics in the French town.  She also holds a secret, a surprising one, and one it would be entirely unfair to reveal; her revelation, and Blunt's no-nonsense performance, lift the Edge of Tomorrow even higher above expectations.

Then, just as the film really gets cranking, everything leads up to a dark, confusing, muddled mess of a final battle that brings it all crashing down.  The final third of Edge of Tomorrow is exactly the movie that the first two-thirds tried so hard not to be.  It's particularly disappointing, and amusing, to find out where the aliens hide their big, giant group brain -- it's a location that's been used before in a story that also traded originality and intelligence for a big, bombastic, utterly pedestrian ending.

Still, there is a lot worth admiring here, especially the two central performances by Cruise and Blunt (who, of course, manage to find time for an eye-rolling kiss).  Cruise has always been an intelligent, interesting actor, and even though the movie shies away from some of the more intriguing complexities of his character's inner path toward heroism, it's a brave choice to begin the film with Cruise as a sniveling, spineless coward.

Blunt, too, is a surprise.  She's an actress best known for supporting character roles, and she finds an interesting, slightly off-balance character here.

The breakneck editing and whiplash camera moves likely will be more confusing and distracting than immersive in IMAX and 3-D -- Edge of Tomorrow is a movie best viewed in traditional ways, and even in good old 2-D I found myself squinting and rubbing my eyes in the last murky 20 minutes.

But I also found myself, up to that point, unexpectedly entertained.  Everything about Edge of Tomorrow feels pleasingly familiar and also surprisingly new.  Halfway through, I wasn't sure where it was all headed, though I was confident its filmmakers did.  I gave my trust to them and enjoyed ride, even if the destination was exactly where I expected it to be.

Viewed June 8, 2014 -- ArcLight Cinerama Dome


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