Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow / *** (PG-13)

Major William Cage: Tom Cruise
Rita Vrataski: Emily Blunt
General Brigham: Brendan Gleeson
Master Sergeant Farell: Bill Paxton
Dr. Carter: Noah Taylor

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Doug Liman. Written by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth. Running time: 113 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, language and brief suggestive material).

“Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today.”
                                                                        —Phil Connors, “Groundhog Day”.

After seeing the trailers for the new sci-fi action flick “Edge of Tomorrow”, it seemed everyone on the internet was comparing the movie to other movies, saying it was a cross between “Groundhog Day” and “The Matrix”, or “Groundhog Day” and “Battle: Los Angeles”, or “Groundhog Day” and “insert alien invasion movie or your choice here.” The constant was “Groundhog Day” due to the notion made clear in the movie’s trailer that the hero of the flick would relive the same day over and over until he was able to stop the alien invasion. It’s a shame, however that the trailers were so intent on letting the audience in on this premise before actually seeing the movie. It would’ve been interesting to go into the movie without any knowledge of where the movie was going.

Still, “Edge of Tomorrow” is an effective science fiction thriller, even if you’re fighting off the urge to yell out “GROUNDHOG DAY!!!” while you’re watching it. Directed by Doug Liman, it is a taught war movie that involves this strange premise of reworking history over and over again until everything works out right. Unlike “Groundhog Day”, if this day ends, it really will mean there’s no tomorrow. The premise emphasizes the notion of strategy in war over firepower. I haven’t really be able to work out the thematic angle of this particular sci-fi, but the action is engaging and more often serves the plot than the other way around.

We learn in the opening moments through TV news reports that an alien race known as Mimics has almost taken over the entire European continent. Their ability to mimic our own combat strategies and adapt to them has made it impossible for the Earth forces to get the upper hand. A new manned robotic combat weapon suit may be the answer when it is proven effective in the first Earth forces win. Now, the world military forces plan a massive attack from the beaches of northern France. Perhaps the military strategists have allowed their sense of nostalgia to bolster their sense of optimism, but it turns out this invasion at Normandy doesn’t go as well as it did for the allies in World War II.

We meet Major William Cage, a PR representative of the military who puts a positive face on the resistance efforts. In a meeting with General Brigham, commander of the European forces, he is ordered to the front to join the action. Thinking it’s a joke, Cage eventually runs and is stripped of his rank and forces to fight in one of the new combat suits in the invasion. Like everyone else, he is killed. Then he wakes up at the very point he is taken into custody by Master Sergeant Farell. After he figures out that he is repeating the same day’s events over and over, he is told by Rita Vrataski—a Special Forces hero—to find her when he wakes up again.

It seems as Tom Cruise’s career continues on, he gains more of a sense of the way he is perceived by the public. He frequently plays with that image in his choice of projects. Here he plays Cage as a phony who is suddenly thrust into a real heroic role by no choice of his own. For the first time I can remember, the movie plays with his diminutive size. Usually Cruise is shot on film as if he’s an average sized action hero. The guy is actually really short. Here, they use his short stature when he’s placed into combat along with more combat ready soldiers. He’s tiny in his combat suit next to the others.

Emily Blunt also proves herself to be an excellent action heroine. In the tradition of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from the “Alien” series, Blunt plays Rita as a tough as nails woman who dominates her male compatriots. This allows her to train Cruise to be a real soldier, with the benefit of being able to reset the day over and over until he gets it. The screenplay culls some comedy elements from the fact that in order to reset each day Cruise must die. He cannot be saved through operation, because the key to his ability to reset lies within his blood. So, if he breaks a leg… Bang! One in the head.

The story progresses mostly logically to its ultimate resolution, which involves an action sequence in a war destroyed Louvre, in the tradition of any summer blockbuster, where well-known locations are key geographical points in the plot. While, it held my attention and interest, there were a few points that I did question. First of all, the General’s choice to send Cage to the front seems awfully random. It would’ve only taken a line or two of dialogue to explain the General’s action. Also, why don’t they try avoiding the beach battlefield all together? Cage skips the battlefield one day and we learn that the mimics’ strategy includes more than just the battlefield, but it seems the heroes still could’ve gotten a pretty big jump on their plans by avoiding the beach altogether. And finally, someone is going to have to explain to me just how the end is possible. I can’t wrap my head around it, perhaps someone else can.

Still, I was entertained throughout the running time of this movie. Liman’s direction, while in the current tradition of presenting confusing action sequences, is easy to follow the plot, which could’ve been problematic in other hands. His focus forward only strays occasionally to add some levity. “Edge of Tomorrow” makes for a nice addition to the summer blockbuster scene by not being a sequel to a movie we didn’t like the first time. It isn’t a masterpiece of science fiction, but it is fresh.

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