Edge of Tomorrow

Reviewed By Brett Gallman
Posted 06/06/14 03:21:11

"Emily Blunt just can't escape loopers."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

I've seen it proposed recently that maybe Tom Cruise isn't a movie star anymore, which is a preposterous notion considering he's one of the only true movie stars we have left. Few leading men seem to be as deranged and dedicated to the craft of sheer entertainment, and his infectious brand of showmanship is often especially evident in blockbuster efforts like "Edge of Tomorrow," a film that's assembled out of familiar parts but still feels vibrant since it's working from the exact sort of smart, funny, and rousing blockbuster formula that Cruise has helped to perfect over the past 30 years.

It starts off on rather unfamiliar footing, however. Cruise is Bill Cage, a cowardly major who's content to serve as the PR face of the American army during the world's war with the Mimics, a group of extraterrestrial invaders. Cage is a far cry from the likes of the cocky, swaggering Maverick, though; instead, he's the type of coward who attempts to bribe his way off of the front lines when a superior officer insists he should land on a beachhead during this war's version of D-Day. His appeals fall on deaf ears, and he's shipped off to a base with a group of fresh recruits, where he's chewed out by a gruff sergeant (Bill Paxton) , strapped into a mech-suit, and dropped into the chaotic, ill-fated invasion.

He dies within minutes of landing--and then he wakes up, seemingly cursed to relive his doom over and over again, until he meets Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a fellow soldier who once experienced the same sort of deja vu. Under her guidance, Cage trains to become the ultimate weapon for the mission that could end the war before mankind is obliterated.

For the past six months, "Edge of Tomorrow" has been something of a silver lining holding the promise of Tom Cruise rampaging about in a mech-suit, and the great thing about the final product is that director Doug Liman has embraced the pure joy that entails. While the film's "Groundhog Day" conceit provides some interesting implications when applied to war (even those who remember history are doomed to repeat it here), it's quite nimble and light on its feet with its themes and tricky plot mechanizations, and it sets aside plenty of time to breathe between the chaos. Like so many of its contemporaries, it's preoccupied with a looming apocalypse and huge stakes, but it's also a little bit sunnier and infused with a pitch-perfect, rollicking sensibility. All this from a movie that forces its protagonist to die constantly (and sometimes, even Cage's demises are amusing).

What's interesting is how Liman borrows from another, often frustrating media altogether to deliver such thrills: "Edge of Tomorrow" might be adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka's novel "All You Need is Kill," but it owes much more to videogames. For once, comparing a film to games is meant as a compliment--in this case, Liman has actually captured the feeling of playing one. Usually, such films resemble the act of watching someone else play a game, as you're subjected to empty, weightless, pixelated chaos; here, though, the feeling of despair and frustration engendered from a particularly difficult game is rendered perfectly.

Anyone who's ever picked up a controller and set themselves to the task of conquering a game built on repetition will immediately recognize what's going on during the film's intriguing second act, which finds Cage and Vrataski constantly attempting to figure out a pattern for survival with each respawn. And like any frustrated players, they're sometimes forced to hit the reset button out of sheer frustration when things go immediately wrong (in this case, doing so often entails a bullet to Cage's head).

Liman's handling of the gimmicky concept is deft; initially, he allows viewers to wallow in the repetition each time Cage reawakens, but he eventually submits to a choppier, sometimes more mysterious rhythm. Sometimes, it's obvious that we've skipped ahead to bits Cage has lived before (and he has a wry sense of humor about it, such as when he has Cage effortlessly shrugging off Mimics without even looking); at other times, Liman allows a scene to play out before slowly revealing Cage has been at a certain point before, many times. Quiet moments like that highlight the humanity operating beneath the gimmick because you realize just how fucking awful and agonizing this must be for Cage. By the middle of the film, you're not even sure how long he and Vrataski have set themselves to this task, only that the former has found himself in a horrible, interminable loop that really bums him out (as existential crises are wont to do).

But the film doesn't get hung up on that despair; in fact, one of its greatest pleasures is watching Tom Cruise remember that he is, in fact, Tom Cruise, and he is awesome. It's not so much a meta sort of thing (it's not like he's really gone anywhere or stopped being awesome, the lifeless "Oblivion" be damned), but it's fun watching Cruise mold the Cage character from a cowardly heel into another one of his cocksure, charismatic ass-kickers. Tasked with providing gravitas and levity, he's everything a leading man should be: funny, charming, and absolutely the type of guy you want leading you into battle against an alien horde.

You might have noticed that the Mimics seem like afterthoughts in this review, and for good reason--they're sort of incidental to the plot, there to provide plot devices and the requisite, Lovecraftian menace. "Edge of Tomorrow" is much more concerned with its human characters, even those beyond Cage. Or maybe I should say especially those beyond Cage because Blunt's Vrataski is every bit as vital to its pulpy energy. Nicknamed the "Full Metal Bitch" and "The Angel of Verdun," Vrataski looks to have been ripped straight out of an anime.

Brandishing a giant sword and dispatching the Mimics with a cool ease, she's every bit the badass Cage winds up being. You can hardly even call them equals for much of the film because Vrataski is already hardened and grizzled by her own experiences, and the platonic dynamic between the characters is refreshing. Theirs is a bond of respect forged on the battlefield, even if only one of them actually remembers it.

And if these pleasures weren't abundant enough, "Edge of Tomorrow" graciously tosses in a little Bill Paxton, too. His presence will immediately conjure up thoughts of "Aliens,"which is correct, especially when it's revealed he's in charge of a squadron of oddballs and loudmouths. This J-Squad is an amusing collection of personalities, with each member exhibiting their own quirk or two as distinguishing marks that pay off during the rousing climax (to continue the videogame comparison--the final act is predicated on the urgency and panic one feels when they're down to their last life and have run completely out of quarters).

"Edge of Tomorrow" does come down with a touch of blockbuster-itis in its last two minutes, at which point you half-expect Wayne and Garth to assure you this is the mega-happy ending. At first blush, I resisted it because it feels like a cheat that sacrifices the time travel mechanics in order to send everyone home happy (plus, it leaves you in the agonizing position of attempting to figure out the paradox involved--I think this is required of all time-travel blockbusters). However, it's actually quite in line with the sort of crowd-pleasing film Liman and Cruise have set out to make, and it's certainly preferable to the groan-inducing rug-pull a lesser, more nihilistic film might attempt in the same spot.

Its refusal to submit to that temptation is a relief because "Edge of Tomorrow" is primarily built to thrill and entertain like the best of its blockbuster precursors. This is old hat for Cruise, but it's one he wears exceptionally well. Here's hoping he never outgrows it--if there's one thing that'll never get old, it's Tom Cruise having an absolute blast and damn near killing himself for our entertainment.

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