Friday, June 06, 2014

EDGE OF TOMORROW: Terrible Title; Terrific Presentation

Opening today at a multiplex near you:

EDGE OF TOMORROW (Dir. Doug Liman, 2014)

First off, it’s a terrible title. It’s so generic; it sounds like a James Bond movie or Star Trek episode title. Maybe it should’ve been called: BETTER THAN OBLIVION.

Secondly, this really doesn’t need to be in 3D. It’s another one of those films that underwent a post conversion into the gimmicky format, and, as I’ve complained about many times before, it makes the image darker and less vivid.

But those gripes aside, Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi action vehicle is a smart, funny, and insanely inventive entry in the summer blockbuster sweepstakes of 2014. Sure, its high concept premise can succinctly summed up as ALIENS meets GROUNDHOG DAY, but it takes that thread and goes its own clever places with it.

Cruise, as an army major who's so not a top gun, is forced into the front lines of an invasion of earth by squid-like aliens, nicknamed "mimics." In a Normandy beach battle, obviously reminiscent of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, Cruise, outfitted in bulky body gear, kills a mimic but then gets melted in a bath of its acidic blood.

Then Cruise wakes up on the previous day at the army base at Heathrow Airport. Everything that happened to him before - Bill Paxton as a FULL METAL JACKET-style Sergeant yelling at him, members of his platoon ridiculing him, and multi-tentacled monsters murdering him - happens again, despite his crazy-sounding warnings or attempts to reverse the situation.

Very amusingly, Cruise's day of death resets again and again, with our protagonist each time gaining a little more info on how to plot more successful moves throughout it. This is where Emily Blunt, harder edged than we've ever seen her, comes in as a heroic Special Forces soldier, who Cruise learns has once been a looper herself.

You see, as Noah Taylor as a scruffy scientist explains, the mimics have the ability to reset the time stream in order to improve their strategic edge in combat, and when Cruise and Blunt killed and got wasted in the remains of an Alpha Mimic, they absorbed their time looping powers.

In punchy training montages, that surely will be as scrutinized by film geeks trying to figure how many days or years Cruise relives the same day as Bill Murray's montages in GROUNDHOG DAY have been, our hero gets into shape, gains confidence, and, of course, falls for Blunt.

The movie, adapted by frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John Henry Butterworth from Hiroshi Sakuraska's 2004 novel All You Need Is Kill, loses a bit of its power when Cruise himself loses his time-looping power, and its big action climax involving massive destruction of the Louvre is pretty predictable, but overall Cruise's sharp performance carries us through a series of gripping sequences making up one of the most compelling narratives I've seen at the multiplex in recent memory.

A lot of the fun is seeing Cruise's character evolve from being a stuffy coward to being a lean, mean fighting machine, something the man can still successfully pull off at 52 years of age. All the baggage that biases many movie-goers against Cruise - couch jumping, creepy accusations that he brainwashed Katie Holmes with Scientology, etc. - all disappear a few minutes into EDGE OF TOMORROW. 

The man's charisma even helps the exposition scenes to be engaging. In one of them, when he tells Taylor and Blunt “Terrific presentation, terrific!” he may as well be talking about the film itself.

More later...

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