October 20, 2014

Blockbusters Marathon: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow

A quick glance at Tom Cruise’s recent projects might give the impression that his career is slumping. Jack Reacher, Oblivion, and Edge of Tomorrow all struggled to build a large audience in this country and didn’t match their reported budgets. Is the once bankable star losing his clout? Yes and no. It’s true that Cruise hasn’t been able to open a big movie in the U.S. without a connection to a larger franchise like the Mission Impossible series. That’s more of a symptom of current trends than anything else, however. Will Smith has also discovered that star power isn’t the currency it used to be. The worldwide box office is a different story, however. Oblivion more than doubled its domestic take in other countries, and Cruise is the main reason it sold well overseas. Franchise properties like Marvel have taken over here, but we’re just a modest part of the growing market around the world. 

I mention this topic because it helps to clarify the progression of Cruise’s career. He knows that his films will do well in other countries, so he can pursue unique projects. This isn’t more experimental fare like Magnolia, but it’s hardly mindless trash. Despite being a rich star with strangely young looks, Cruise conveys an everyman quality. The 52-year-old actor rolls out the winning smile in Edge of Tomorrow, but it’s undercut right from the start. Major William Cage is a cowardly military public affairs officer who sells the war yet avoids the conflict. His attempts to charm General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) put him on the front lines for certain death. This never would have happened to Cole Trickle! It’s interesting that our hero is hardly the courageous sort who will do anything to save the world. He’d rather blackmail someone than go near the fight. There’s plenty of room for growth for Cage, and that keeps him from being a one-note dullard.

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow

The story opens with a montage of news that introduces us to the situation of the Mimics threatening Europe. The barrage of clips is a clever way to introduce the setting without spending too much time on it. We don’t need to know every detail of how the enemy works or what happened earlier. Guillermo del Toro employed a similar strategy with Pacific Rim, but this approach works even better in setting the stage. The action moves briskly and barely takes a breath during the 113-minute running time. Edge of Tomorrow is directed by Doug Liman, and he used a similar approach with The Bourne Identity. Both films pack a lot of action and humor and don’t cross the two-hour mark. It’s a pivotal skill that should have been employed in bloated movies like The Amazing Spider-man 2. Liman recognizes the need to dive into the material without an unnecessary build-up.

It takes very little to get me excited about time loop stories, especially those that use the Groundhog Day premise. If done well, they can offer an interesting combination of ingenuity and humor. When Cage finds himself repeatedly dying in the same battle, it’s a scenario with no easy answer. Many have made the comparison to playing a video game, and I can’t think of a better description. Cage is playing a game with no continues and must start over every time. It’s like having to start at the beginning of the maddening NES Castelvania level with the Grim Reaper. What keeps this movie from getting tired is the humor, which finds the fun in watching Cruise keep dying. When Cage tries to be an action hero and roll under a moving truck, it’s fitting that he’s run over in his first try. He might knock a fellow soldier out of harm’s way, but he gets killed instead. Despite the significant amounts of death and destruction, there’s an airy feeling that’s hard to get right. Bill Paxton adds to the fun as a patriotic sergeant who hams it up to just the right level.

Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow, directed by Doug Liman

Another factor in the success is the work of Emily Blunt, who plays the film's real action superstar. Rita Vrataski has experienced a similar loop, and her no-nonsense attitude is just what Cage needs. She’s ready to pull out a gun and shoot Cage at a moment’s notice, and there’s great fun in watching her act so decisively. The highly entertaining training montage includes repeat examples of her penchant to shoot first and ask questions later. Blunt brought a similar weight to her role in Looper and is even stronger here as the ultimate warrior. The semi-love story doesn’t feel out of place because Cage has spent so much time with Vrataski. The hints at a similar partner during her loop also give them a unique connection. She understands what he’s experiencing and has developed the hardened shell to combat regrets about her failure to save the day. Cage is hardly the best guy to receive this gift, but it’s their only chance to avoid complete destruction.

Despite the fun approach, Edge of Tomorrow includes harrowing war footage that gives a believable portrait of the chaos. The Mimics appear out of nowhere, and death is only seconds away. The camera throws us inside the battle and rarely provides a warning before death arrives. Even with the futuristic weaponry, humans can do little against the agile foes. The creatures strike with tentacles and inflict major blows in a heartbeat. How can anyone defend against them? The best choice is to run, but that move offers little chance of survival. We rarely get a clear look at the Mimics, which adds to the mystery of the nearly unstoppable beings. How can you defeat an enemy that’s always many steps ahead of you? Of course, they also have a trump card for understanding human tactics.

The Alpha Mimic in Edge of Tomorrow

It’s unfortunate that Edge of Tomorrow didn’t find a larger audience. Most critics raved about it, but the unfortunate title and better-known competition led to the disappointing crowds. Warner Bros. emphasized the tagline “Live. Die. Repeat” to the cover to diminish the importance of the original title. The movie is based on the novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and that title remains the best of the three options. I can understand why it wasn’t used by the studio, however. It sounds like the name of a cool genre movie instead of a summer blockbuster. Regardless of its initial results, this film should continue to build its reputation during the next few years. It’s hardly a throwaway blockbuster and delivers great entertainment that few big releases have matched this year.

16 comments:

  1. You're pretty much spot on in this review, Dan. You touch on all the biggest points of the film, and I'm in complete agreement with basically everything you've said here! It's a great, fun flick. I've also read the novel, which has a number of similarities but changes quite a few things while still giving respectful nods to the book (a great example of this is how the main character in the book is Keiji (kay-gee), and the film is Cage). They also slightly change how the Mimics work, but I think for the better. It was very confusing in the book, and it caused a really shitty third act that almost ruined the book for me. Fortunately all of this was altered for the film, making it a really good time all the way through.

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    1. Glad to hear it! I'm interested in checking out the book to see the differences, despite some possible issues that the film resolved. I'd heard a lot of good things about this movie, so it was nice to find out that it was really that great.

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  2. It is shame this film did not do better from a financial standpoint. So many people lament about the lack of originality in a marketplace dominated by Superheroes and franchises. Yet when something innovated and fun actually drops the masses stay away. I just don't get it. Hopefully the film will gain a solid following on DVD and television.

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    1. I think it was partially the title, Tom Cruise, and marketing that should have been clearer. The main reason was probably just how much it matters to be connected to a franchise these days, however. I expect it will get a lot of notice at home and really take once it hits HBO or something similar.

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  3. I agree with pretty much everything in your review, and in the comments. I think the title kept some people away, either by not giving them a clue of what it was really about, or by making it sound like a soap opera ("Tune in again to see if Brock and Jasmine find their missing child on Edge of Tomorrow!") The title doesn't even appear on the Blu-ray cover, except in a URL.

    In the extras Liman mentions that his goal was to make a war film, not an alien invasion film, and I feel that for the most part he succeeded. It's more Saving Private Ryan than Independence Day.

    You mentioned Cruise's films Jack Reacher, Oblivion, and this one. All underperformed in the U.S. and I think that's because of a personal backlash against Cruise. On the IMDB boards for these films I saw far more comments attacking him personally, rather than pointing out things people felt were wrong with the movies.

    When I saw Jack Reacher I felt it was one of the best characters he had played in years. It got me to pick up the Lee Child books afterwards to read more about the character. And I liked Oblivion, although not as much as the other two films.

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    1. I have mixed feelings about Jack Reacher. The character is interesting, though I think the story gets a little too generic. Still, I could see what they were trying to do. I am curious about the books, especially since there are so many. Oblivion was good, though it didn't reach the same levels of Edge of Tomorrow for me.

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    2. The first few books were not ones that made me think I'd read the entire set of them. I happened to pick them up at the same time, so I read all of them. They weren't bad, but they employed a device I hate: having a character who knows something vital refuse to tell the others for reasons that have no logical sense. It's a lazy writer's way to keep the reader from knowing something too soon. Lee Child got a lot better at avoiding this or making it more plausible as the books went on, though.

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    3. Interesting. It sounds like it was a work in progress for a while, but I'm curious about how the character was on the page.

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    4. He's a lot like the character in the movie. It was a pretty good translation. He's a homeless (by choice) Army veteran who's a former MP who doesn't take shit from anybody. The biggest complaint I saw about Cruise from the fans of the books was that Cruise was way too short. In the books Reacher is a moose - 6'5", 250 pounds of muscle. Author Child countered by saying he'd rather have 100% of the character and 90% of the height than 100% of the height and 90% of the character. He cameod in the movie, too, so he was very happy with Cruise's portrayal of his character. And if you stop to think about it, what actor could you find to play to the physical dimensions? Hell, that's bigger than Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

      Each novel is self-contained (except for one). Each provides the reader not just with a solution to a mystery/killing/perilous situation, but it also gives the reader the satisfaction of "justice" being done because Reacher pretty much always ends up at least beating the shit out of the bad guy(s), and sometimes a lot more. You don't just get the solution to the mystery, but the punishment for the crime. Reacher doesn't hitchhike around the country trying to right wrongs or anything like that, though. He usually just wants to be left alone, but the bad guy(s) won't oblige. As the books go on he gets more willing to jump in and quicker to start looking into things. He's got the investigative skills from being a former MP, too.

      The books are quick reads. The movie is adapted from the ninth book.

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    5. Thanks for the information. I may not dive in for a while, but it sounds like they're worth at least checking out at some point.

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  4. Great review! This is one of Tom Cruise's good action movies outside a franchise, and I liked how his character was vulnerable in the setting he was placed in. Emily Blunt was also great here. There were also a lot of comic moments, even at the brink of the invasion war.

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    1. Thanks! It was interesting to see how they combined the comedy with a pretty believable war setting. i really liked how they made Cruise a jerk in the beginning; he plays a self-centered guy very well.

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  5. Great review. This is one film I really wished I'd been able to see on the big screen. And this is the kind of film the summer blockbuster season should be more about. Entertaining. Have a little weight to it. Some great action. And of course a nice dose of sci-fi.

    Emily Blunt is fast becoming one of my favourite actresses about at the moment and she shows such a great amount of diversity. Honestly thought she could kick everyone's ass in this film!

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    1. Emily Blunt could definitely kick Tom Cruise's ass in this movie. There's no contest; he's the novice who must learn from her. I also would have liked to see it in the theaters and loved how it lived up to all the hype.

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  6. The script, adapted by Christopher McQuarrie and the sibling team of Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, is actually ingenious in doling out its herky-jerky storytelling.

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    1. Definitely! It works well on repeat viewings too!

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