Live. Die. Repeat.
The life of a film critic works in fairly formulaic cycles. Summer brings blockbusters, Winter sees dramas; and comedies are interspersed throughout the year. The reality of this is that you are bombarded by so many of the same type of film in a short space of time, that you often overlook or underestimate a release or two. Edge Of Tomorrow is one of those features; a decent science fiction action film, well executed, decently acted and surprisingly thrilling.
The film wastes no time in setting the scene for the audience. In the near future, the Earth is hit by an asteroid that carries with it an advanced species. This unstoppable force lands in Germany and quickly conquers most of Europe. Finally, our race manages to secure a single victory in Verdun, France; curiously at the hands of a single soldier armed with minimal training and an armoured combat suit. The success of Rita Vrataski [Blunt] earns her the name ‘The Angel Of Verdun’ and her image is used as a propaganda symbol by the military’s marketing arm to drive recruitment levels. One such marketer is Major William Cage [Cruise]. Being the face of the drafting campaign, Cage is brought to London and ordered by the commanding general to report to the front line with a camera crew and document the war effort. As a non-combatant with a distaste for combat, Cage desperately tries to weasel out of the order but is arrested, stripped of his rank and sent to the front line as a deserter. What should be a routine drop turns into a slaughter and our strongest forces are practically wiped out immediately. Cage, witnessing all this, manages to secure a single alien kill, covering himself in blue blood in the process. As he dies, Cage automatically wakes up the day before, on the military base at Heathrow and slowly learns that he is forced to live this day over and over until he can break the loop.
As the most commonly recognisable time loop flick, most critics will plaster the words Groundhog and Day all over their reviews. While I appreciate the similarities, it’s really nothing like that movie. The more accurate comparison would be that of a video game. Anyone who’s played a video game for more than an hour will have died/failed repeatedly and memorised exactly where they stumble, only to reload the save and try to pre-empt the attack. This film is like that. In the centre of the fray, unable to escape, no real time for research or analysis, trying to figure out how to fix everything. Thankfully, the script cleverly changes up the location a few times, allowing the loop variations to feel fresh, unique and unpredictable. Admittedly, every now-and-then the SciFi exposition starts to seep out, losing the audience for a fraction of a second but then snaps back before you realise what was just averted – a vital trick most genre films tend to bungle or miss entirely. Another interesting comparison is between this release and Oblivion. For those who read my review last year, Oblivion is a stunningly pretty science fiction film that was marred by weak developments, hung on a flimsy finale and ultimately made little-to-no sense. As this movie happily plodded along, I was desperately worried we would be entering the same territory here but thankfully, Edge Of Tomorrow proves itself to be a significantly impressive feature.
You can essentially draw a straight dividing line between the actors. On one side you have Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt leading the charge and on the other you have the supports. The majority of the supports are pretty decent but they all have very obvious two dimensional personalities: you’ve got the hard-arse General, the loquacious drill Sergeant, the crazy scientist, not to mention the rag-tag company of outsiders and weirdoes (somehow a pre-requisite of all futuristic military flicks). But getting back to the leads, Blunt and Cruise work spectacularly together and ensure that any flaws in the supporting character design are completely peripheral. I’m always a fan of Blunt on film and everything she works in staples her as a dedicated and passionate actor. Put simply, I believe every role she’s in. Then there’s Tom ‘Look at me run’ ‘Don’t bad mouth Scientology’ ‘Show me the money’ Cruise. A lot of people dislike Mr. Cruise and the last eight or so years have not been kind to the man. But from an acting perspective, I’ve mostly enjoyed his performances; sure he’s a bit whacky but he has the charisma and magnetism to really sell it. Nowhere is that more prevalent than here. Cruise’s performance as Cage is genuinely transformative; not in the sense that you can’t tell it’s Cruise but for the fact that he starts out as this corporate, self-serving, shit-eating-grin-wearing douchebag coward and over time (and probably a lot of post-traumatic stress) hardens himself into a determined, motivated warrior. For an actor, that’s a statement. Playing yourself is easy. Playing someone else is tricky. Playing someone else who in turn evolves into someone dramatically difficult is a challenge – and amazingly Cruise nails it.
Keenly directed (if a little too shaky cam for most) and easily Liman’s best work since The Bourne Identity, whilst also channelling some of the manic pacing, humour and disjointed emotional developments of Go. The production value is gritty and plausible, the visual effects are extraordinarily impressive (when they work) and the locations are used very well – bringing an interesting World War II parallel to the fore. Personally, I found the aliens, dubbed ‘mimics,’ a little too Gears Of War inspired and far too fast to actually get a good look at but they make for a formidable foe and heighten the fear and tension that weaves its way throughout. Which brings us to the score. Christophe Beck’s subtle immersive use of deeply electronic hums and pulses is perfect for the on-screen action and really compliments the devastation, chaos and carnage but at the same time, the end credit music is so fucking stupid, it has to be called out. I couldn’t give two shits who the hell John McDaid is but his track “This Is Not The End” was a terrible choice. Sure, the lyrics work with the story but the tone was so off. The movie closes and this upbeat indie rock track surges in, almost as if to say, “Come on, kids! Clap along!” Just.. so stupid.
Amidst a sea of wince-inducing science fiction and war dramas that are effectively positive promos for the military, Edge Of Tomorrow serves as a welcome break from the norm and entertains solidly for its entire running time.
30th May 2014
The Scene To Look Out For:
This is going to sound a little ridiculous but hear me out. I really like the scene where Vrataski reveals her middle name but probably not for the reason you’d initially think. Spending his day with Vrataski, either training or dying in combat, Cage makes several attempts to bond or socialise. As this is a one-way street and Vrataski has no memory of the ‘shared’ experiences, she is always cold with him. Throughout the story we’re given little glimpses into who the Angel Of Verdun is but Cage is always shot down. In a quiet dying moment (one of many), she reveals her middle name to Cage. The second this happened, I cringed. If it’s one thing screenwriters love to do, it’s force predictable emotional shit that falls flat on its face. Thankfully, it never comes up again. It’s just a moment. Cage never brings it up, it’s not referenced; the purpose of the reveal isn’t information to exploit at a later date but a sign to the audience that Cage and Vrataski could be friends, if not more.
As stated, there are three characters in this movie, Cage, Vrataski and everyone else. While Cruise’s performance is brilliant, he’s actually shadowed by Blunt. She’s a genuinely strong female character who isn’t driven solely by her feelings. Throughout the movie, she’s a soldier and an incredibly good one. Granted, this film fails the Bechdel Test but I believe that test to be very narrow in its parameters – not to say it’s not worth noting because it clearly highlights how lopsided most films are – but Blunt holds her own and hopefully this will open the door to more prominent releases for her.
“Hey man, I think there’s something wrong with your suit.. there’s a dead guy in it”
In A Few Words:
“A surprisingly welcome treat, combining humour, drama, action and largely intelligent developments – which, for a Summer blockbuster, is saying a lot”