Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt

Directed by Doug Liman

"Edge of Tomorrow" is a perfect example of film-makers taking a host of familiar ingredients, throwing them into a blender, mixing them up, and coming out with something perfectly legitimate and entertaining in its own right.  Glibly described by some as "Groundhog Day" meets "Starship Troopers" the film tells the story of Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a P.R. Officer in the the U.S. Army, who, courtesy of scheming General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) finds himself somehow press-ganged into fighting on the front line against an invasion of seemingly invincible aliens, as they wage war on planet earth, about which we learn through a newsreel intro as they fight their way across continental Europe (echoes of 1939?); they are called Mimics, and arrived on earth on earth on a crashed asteroid.  Cage is a smarmy coward, happy to hide behind his desk, and is horrified to be thrown into battle.  Understandably, he stands no chance, despite the hi-tech "jacket" combat suits with which the troops are equipped, and in the first "Saving Private Ryan"-esque assault on the European coast, he takes in a certain string of events and manages to kill an alien before meeting a grizzly death, with spilled alien blood melting his face.  The twist is that when he is killed on the battlefield, he wakes up to find that the day has started again, so he must live through the same events again and again.  And every day he dies, but working his way slightly farther up the beach as he seems to know what's coming - up to a point.  Along the way he encounters Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), aka "The Angel of Verdun" (evoking the First World War), a war hero responsible for a famous victory over the invaders, and now a poster-woman for the defence forces.  She gives him an odd look, as if she knows something he doesn't.

On one such incarnation, meeting Vrataski on the field of fire, she tells him to "find me when you wake up".  He does so, and she takes him to meet Noah Taylor's Dr. Carter, a disgraced Whitehall scientist, who has theorised that all Mimics are part of a greater consciousness, a brain which he calls an Omega.  His supposition is that each time an Alpha Mimic is killed, the aliens are able to reset time in order to anticipate better the humans resistance, and thus win the war.  Cage, having killed an Alpha on his first mission, has inherited that ability, hence his ability to relive each day.  Vrataski explains that she previously had this ability, but was wounded and given a blood transfusion of regular human blood, so lost the power.  So from here on in, it's either death or nothing.  Cage embarks on a rigourous training routine to help his chances of meeting combat's demands, and working out how to defeat the Mimics once and for all.  Much humour is to be had (this is the "Groundhog Day" part) about him reliving the day again and again, confounding other characters (who are living the day for what they think is the first time) by his knowledge of exactly what's to come, in any given moment.  And there's even humour in his repeated deaths, for example when mis-judging a roll under a track as he tries to escape from his ball-busting Master Sergeant Farrell (a joyful performance by the legendary Bill Paxton).

The mechanics of the story determine the structure, but it feels good because I don't think it's really been seen in cinema before - Bill Murray aside.  Where it has been seen, perennially, is in video games.  Now a massive industry, with the "First Person Shooter" a particular favourite genre, featuring titles such as early favourite "Doom", X-Box benchpost "Halo" and "Gears of War" .  This film draws on the "lives" feature of such games, that is, ones character in the game can be killed by a foe, only to start the "level" again, only this time knowing what's coming - an inch at a time.  In many ways this is what makes the movie so enjoyable.  The audience experiences each day with Cage, but each time he knows what's coming but we generally don't.  Much fun is had with that in several sequences, such as one in which the pair try to infiltrate Brigham's offices which sees Cage telling Rita exactly when to move to avoid security guards, and then telling the General exactly what his secretary is going to say.

Cruise continues his positive streak - I even thought "Oblivion" was way more thoughtful and compassionate than most people found it on its release.  He perfectly portrays Cage's journey from smarmy PR guy to seasoned fighter.  Blunt, likewise, is impressive in an unfamiliar action role.  Paxton, Gleeson, and Taylor are solid in support, as is the ensemble group of Cage's squad, including "Robin Hood" himself, Jonas Armstrong.  Again, much of the comedy comes from Cage's interactions with his "comrades" in J-Squad, as they taunt him abouint his green-ness but he comes gradually to be in a position to save their lives one by one.  Director Doug Liman continues to add to his eclectic CV.  Ranging from the hysterical Jon Favreau / Vince Vaughan (and it's not often you hear that these days) starrer "Swingers" ("You're monay, baby, and you don't even know it!") by way of rave comedy "Go" (great soundtrack), the original trilogy-spawning "The Bourne Identity" and the movie that put Brangelina together, "Mr & Mrs Smith".  He brings a firm hand to the tiller here, cleverly balancing the action, comedy, and time-bending premise.

Overall, this is / was a refreshingly original and fun big action sci-fi blockbuster which didn't obviously have an eye on a franchise - a nice rarity these days.  It's not entirely original, but that doesn't seem to matter because it's so well put together, and a great deal of fun.  It's been somewhat viewed as having under-performed in last summer's busy season.  Arguments for this include the vague title (originally it was named for it's Japanese graphic novel source material, "All You Need is Kill" by Hiroshi Sarakuza) but execs bottled it during production.  "Edge of Tomorrow" does actually make sense, because each time Cage dies he's on the verge of making it to the next day, but still has pieces of the problem to solve.  But on its own terms it almost completely succeeds creatively, if you will.  The action is solidly staged and exciting.  The thrill ride is thorough, and I think the film will stand up well over time.

I really enjoyed it.  Definitely worth a rental / download / watch / whatever your thing is.