“Edge of Tomorrow” Review

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It is easy to deride the state of the modern blockbuster. Sometimes it feels like we have been overwhelmed by Transformers, Marvel and their clones, remakes, reboots, reimaginings, adaptations, and recreations. Each of these dependent on surface level attachment and understanding, or nostalgia, rather than building a relationship from scratch. Why would a film need characterization if the audience already knows who the key players are from books and toys? So we are left cold and detached as these films instantly fade from memory.

Of course there are the rare ones.

The ones that slip between their vapid brethren and declare themselves different. Albeit often quietly. These are the ones that even if they are an adaptation, or a reboot, they understand the necessity to build a connection with an audience. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Men knew how to introduce us to Peter Parker, even if we all already knew who he was. Casino Royale reinvented Bond, and showed us his heart. Batman Begins reveals Bruce Wayne to us in compelling fashion. There is a way to tackle the big blockbuster without causing eyes to glaze over.

These dark horses wear the clothes of the time wasters but hide beneath that cloak ideas, themes, genuine emotion, and talent. These are the ones that last. The ones that inspire.

Edge of Tomorrow is one of those rare ones.

Which isn’t to claim it as superb or masterful but to recognize it for what it is: clever, engaging, fun, and at times, hilarious.

Adapted from the Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill, at surface level Edge of Tomorrow looks bland and generic: perpetual action star Tom Cruise blowing up indistinct (and wholly evil) aliens with futuristic technology. We’ve seen it all before. Even its central conceit feels borrowed from the Bill Murray and Harold Ramis classic Groundhog Day. For somewhat unimportant reasons William Cage (Tom Cruise) is reliving the same day over and over and over again. Every time he dies he wakes up where he began.

This mechanism provides Edge of Tomorrow with the means to propel the story, comment on its genre, and be very, very funny.

The alien enemy (inexplicably called Mimics) is the sci-fi classic hive-mind race, controlled by a queen known as the Omega. The final boss. Tom Cruise starts out as a level zero newbie, and only through infinite repetition can he learn the pattern of events that will provide him with the opportunity to off the Omega (not to mention to develop the skills necessary to do it). Throughout he is aided by the otherworldly Emily Blunt, whose character Rita Vrataski was able to use the same power as Cage during a previous battle in the war. She provides the mentor and confidant to Cage’s student as he evolves into the necessary action hero.

Edge of Tomorrow is perhaps the only worthwhile film about video games, and it isn’t even based on one. Much of its runtime is spent iterating, or suggesting countless iteration, of this single day. The conceit allows Cage to fail spectacularly, and sometimes pathetically. It allows him to learn, to level up. The whole sequence is a commentary on the ‘rising action’ section of storytelling. The portion of the story where the lead character simply cannot die by convention. Neither can Cage; or rather, death doesn’t stick. There is no Game Over, but there is the endless Reset. This highlights the absurdity of most action heroes’ narrow escapes and badass moves. How could they ever pull them off on the first try? It takes Cage supposed millions of attempts before he starts to resemble James Bond in Skyfall making that jump between two train cars, expertly landing and adjusting his sleek suit. So it makes it that much more rewarding to see him cruising (heh) through a battlefield taking out Mimics with expert ease.

What saves Edge of Tomorrow from potential tedium are three things. First, Tom Cruise is giving his standard fully committed and charming performance. The man might be a complete kook in reality, but in the movies he is one of the most reliable stars. Second, the role reversal of Cage and Vrataski. In most other stories, Emily Blunt would have been the novice, learning from the capable man. It’s refreshing to see this inverted in their relationship. Even if it does succumb to the allure of romance, at least it feels earned. And third, its sense of humor. During Cage’s learning curve he fails in hilarious ways. The biggest laugh at my showing was when he attempts to time a roll under a moving humvee just right, and splat! The premise allows for failure and unexpected moments like this, which keeps things funny and surprisingly light. I would be remiss if I did not mention that Bill Paxton’s character is a comedic stand out. His best line? When asked if he is an American he quips, “No sir, I am from Kentucky.”

In the final act the screenwriters make a bold choice that shakes up the whole structure. Cage loses the power to start the day over. Suddenly the perils feel real for once, because they finally are. There are no more do-overs. After watching Cage get wiped out in every way imaginable for the majority of the film, it feels possible that he and Rita could fail. This shift keeps the film gripping to the very end.

Edge of Tomorrow is fresh, different, a little quirky, and a ton of fun. It will give you hope that worthwhile movies can still come out of the big budget Hollywood grind.

 

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