Directed by: Doug Liman.
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth based on the novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Starring: Tom Cruise (Cage), Emily Blunt (Rita), Brendan Gleeson (General Brigham), Bill Paxton (Master Sergeant Farell), Jonas Armstrong (Skinner), Tony Way (Kimmel), Kick Gurry (Griff), Franz Drameh (Ford), Dragomir Mrsic (Kuntz), Charlotte Riley (Nance), Terence Maynard (Cruel Sergeant), Noah Taylor (Dr. Carter).
It’s been a reasonably good summer blockbuster season so far – although we’re only a month into what will be a four month marathon, where every week brings another hugely expensive blockbuster, so there’s still time for us to get sick of them. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a little weak – simply because it’s essentially repeating what four other Spider-Man movies did, but was still entertaining. Godzilla may have sacrificed it’s human characters a little, but as large scale spectacle, it’s tough to beat. X-Men: Days of Future Past didn’t fall into the same trap that Spider-Man did and simply repeat what was done before – but tried for something different – and mainly succeeded. Maleficent was disappointing, but only because it seemed like it was reaching for something greater than it initially seemed, and then came up short. But out of all the blockbusters so far, Edge of Tomorrow is probably my favorite – the only one not based on an existing product, and one that really does seem to be trying for something unique and different. The film feels like it was based on a videogame – although it wasn’t – and is the only film I can think of that really captures the feel of playing a video game – dying and re-spawning over and over again, as the game tries to learn what they need to do to survive – and make it further in the game. This may sound like the movie would become repetitive and dull – but the screenplay, direction and performances keep that from happening – cleverly finding new twists, dark humor and ways to keep things moving along at a rapid pace. This is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a while.
The movie opens with a lightning quick explanatory sequence – some brief news footage which talks about a meteor hit, and then ensuing invasion by an alien force known as “mimics” who have been marauding through Europe for five years now – seemingly unstoppable. That was until the battle of Verdun – where a hero emerged – Rita (Emily Blunt) who, as the footage repeatedly tells us with “new technology and little training” she was able to whip out hundreds of mimics in one battle. The allies are now planning one final, D-Day like attack on the mimics in Europe, which they think will succeed spectacularly, and end the mimic war. They’re wrong.
Tom Cruise stars as William Cage – a character who reminded me of James Garner’s character in Arthur Hiller and Paddy Chayefsky’s underrated The Americanization of Emily – where he played a character who is very good at his job as a PR hack, who is a coward when tasked with filming the action on D-Day. That’s what Cage faces as well – he’s called into the office of General Brigham (Brendan Gleason) and told he’ll be on the frontlines, filming the action. Cage doesn’t handle the situation well – and instead of doing that, he’s assigned to be an actual soldier on the frontlines. He is assigned to J-Company, under the leadership of Master Sergeant Farrell (an amusing Bill Paxton) – and isn’t expected to last long. He doesn’t – but right before he’s killed, he kills a mimic and is covered in his blood. This allows him to hijack the mimics power – the capability of “resetting” time every time he dies, so that he’s once again assigned to J-Company, and once again screws up, once again dies, and once again re-spawns. He meets Rita on the beach, and she figures out what is happening to him – because it happened to her before. She tells him to “find me when you wake up” – and eventually the two pair up and tries to win the war – with him remembering everything that happened, and she having to start fresh every day.
I liked pretty much everything about the first and second acts of Edge of Tomorrow. The quick explanatory section over the opening credits is really all you need to become engrossed in the world, and that’s all the movie gives you. Once it explains its concept once, it doesn’t dwell on it over and over again, but just immerses the audience in the action over and over – with slight changes. Sometimes when we think we’re seeing something for the first time, it turns out it’s happened many times before, and we only catch up when Rita does. The movie takes a disappointingly generic and predictable turn in the final act – but it’s one that seems necessary to satisfy the demands of the market to have large scale action at the end of every movie – and if I’m being honest, I have no idea how else they could have ended the movie (the movie does make up for this disappointingly predictable turn a little bit by having a great final scene).
As Angelina Jolie showed last week in Maleficent, Tom Cruise shows this week why we still do need movie stars in movies like this. Cruise doesn’t have the complexity in his role that Jolie had in that film – but he immediately establishes a screen presence in the film, and his character is never lost in the midst of all the special effects laden excitement. This isn’t easy to do (see everyone in Godzilla for an example of how to become completely overwhelmed by special effects) – and Cruise shows everyone else how it’s done. It’s not a great performance, but it’s a great “movie star performance” – which is what the film needs. I have no idea why the filmmakers chose Blunt to play Rita (perhaps they were fans of Julie Andrews in The Americanization of Emily) – because I don’t remember seeing her in an action film before, but Blunt is great as Rita – full of steely resolve, but also a sense of confusion and frustration. She had Cage’s power once, and lost it. Now she’s stuck trying to figure out new, every day, what exactly is going on. The best supporting performance, far and away, is by Bill Paxton – who is having a great deal of fun as Farrell. Add this to his memorable work last year in 2 Guns (the only memorable thing about that movie) – and I think it’s safe to say no one is having more fun in action movies right now than Paxton.
The film was directed by Doug Liman – who has had an interesting, up and down career so far. He has directed two large hits in the past – The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith – although both were apparently plagued by cost and schedule overruns, and second unit directors doing more of their share of the work (if you believe the rumors at least). At his best – like his earlier films, especially Go (1999), his films have a propulsive energy that keeps things moving from one scene to the next rapidly, never slowing down or missing a beat. He does that in Edge of Tomorrow – this film moves quickly. It also has a dark sense of humor – it has Tom Cruise die in any number of strange ways, sometimes played for laughs (the first time he tries to roll under the truck being the best).
In what has already been a rather good summer for big spectacles, I think Edge of Tomorrow is the best so far. It will have more competition – weekly – but it’s rare to have a movie of this size also have the intelligence that this one does – a film that takes a science fiction premise (or rips off Groundhog Day depending on your perceptive) and runs with it full bore. I had more fun watching Edge of Tomorrow than I’ve had at the movies in a while – but there’s also something a little bit more here. It’s not quite a great movie – the third act does that – but it’s great summer entertainment.