5 June 2014

Edge of Tomorrow makes Tom Cruise likable again

We are living in a strange, strange world. The new big budget, action/sci-fi blockbuster starring Tom Cruise isn't expected to do very well in the box office despite a lack of other action/sci-fi films released this year. This is shame, because Edge of Tomorrow is actually really good. Without giving away anything that the trailers haven't, the basic premise is that there has been an alien invasion. We join the film as a last-ditch assault on the land the aliens have invaded is about to be undertaken, with our main man Bill Cage being sent to the front-line for the assault, where he gains the ability to go back in time to the start of the day whenever he is killed. Another soldier in the battle, Rita Vrataski (better known as the Full Metal Bitch), recognises his power as something she used to have, and helps him train.

The first thing worth mentioning is that this film wastes no time getting into the story. The trope of the main character not accepting or believing that they now have powers is not present here - he figures out and accepts what he can do after the first time he travels back to the start of the day, even if he doesn't know why he can do it, which allows us to move on quickly. There is no fat on this film at all really, with the basic introduction of the film fitting into the first 20 minutes or so, before diving straight into the meat of the story, which moves at a pace. Strangely enough, the film never feels repetitive, moving from plot point to plot point before the audience has time to get bored. The comparisons to Groundhog Day are understandable, but the concept still feels fresh as the film progresses, allowing our character to learn the battlefield and get further and further towards his goal. The sci-fi elements of this film are generally well done, but other than the main time loop they are used for world-building rather than as plot devices, showing us a version of the near future that isn't so high tech that it is unbelievable, but isn't so grounded in reality that a full scale alien invasion seems out of place. The design of the aliens is interesting if not particularly original, as are the exo-skeleton suits that the soldiers wear to battle, with these suits being the main focal point of most the action.

Naturally, the early action is mostly based around watching our protagonist learning the layout of the battle and using it to his advantage while getting better with his exo-skeleton, going from a terrified mess in his first life to a somersaulting robot ninja by the end of the film. Really, it's the little details here that provide the most entertainment. The first time Tom Cruise's character drops from the airship taking him to the front line, he lands awkwardly and breaks his visor. The second time we see him drop, he still lands awkwardly but he manages to avoid breaking his visor this time, and eventually we see him drop from the airship and landing in the traditional one-knee-down, one-fist-on-the-floor bad ass pose, which somehow doesn't feel cheesy. We get to see him fail at attacking an alien, before it quickly cuts to the next attempt where he succeeds, and then the next attempt we he succeeds with style. Unfortunately, Emily Blunts character doesn't get much time to show of her combat prowess, which is frustrating as she is portrayed in the film to be the ultimate soldier and looks incredibly cool wielding an old aeroplane propeller as a sword, that she only uses once or twice.

Neither of our two main character feel two-dimensional though, and the film allows time for both of them to develop, despite the fact that we are seeing the same 12 hours over and over again. Both Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt are really on form here, giving solid performances as the leads. Emily Blunt is particularly good as the hardened space marine type character, but frustratingly her character softens over the course of the film, with Cruise eventually taking over as "the bad ass" - an inevitability in modern cinema, but still a disappointing aspect of the film. It's good to see Cruise in a role that doesn't conform to his standard action hero persona at first though, with him beginning the film as a self-confessed coward before getting better and better in battle as he learns the actions he needs to take to survive. He has a well defined emotional arc, and throws himself into the role with the same amount of enthusiasm as he does with almost everything he's been in, which is still great to see in such a high profile celebrity.

The only real criticism I can make is that (other than Bill Paxton's character, who is great in this), the side characters feel under-developed and irrelevant to the main plot, and that the finale is slightly anti-climactic, but I'm nitpicking. Late on in the film there is an heroic sacrifice so that the main characters can progress, but I didn't really care because they had barely been in the film up until that point. This isn't much of an issue, but it felt like the sacrifice was meant to up the stakes of the finale, and because these characters have barely been in the film up until this point, there is no reason to care about them. It is in moments like this that you can tell that Edge of Tomorrow is an adaptation of existing material, and it feels like these characters only exist in the film to serve the fans of the book, rather than serve the story being told.

It's amazing that this hasn't been released with a video game adaptation actually, because the source material is the perfect way to include in-game death as part of the narrative, and the story structure matches the ideas of levels and cut scenes that gamers are used to. The film still manages to have moments that feel genuinely tense despite the fact that the main character is effectively invincible, using an original, if not contrived, plot point that I wouldn't want to ruin here - but if you were worried about low stakes in a film where the character can basically respawn, it isn't an issue. Overall, Edge of Tomorrow offers a compelling story and interesting leads, delivering a solid action/sci-fi film that is consistently entertaining and a lot of fun to watch.

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