Review: Edge of Tomorrow

EDGE OF TOMORROW

Tom Cruise has been born and killed dozens of times in his long standing tenure as an action film star, but he has never died more than in Edge of Tomorrow. If American audiences have encountered a crisis of faith with this once unbeatable leading man, perhaps he can try over and over until he wins back their trust. The ability to go back and relive a day until it becomes absolutely ideal was perfected in Groundhog Day, and so this newest of action extravaganzas takes that formula and applies to a science fiction war. While this approach sounds dull on paper, Edge of Tomorrow actually succeeds in making its plot mechanics thoroughly entertaining, even if it comes at the expense of meaningful character development or a satisfactory resolution.

Major Cage (Tom Cruise) is a military professional in name only. With limited experience from college ROTC to his credit, his expertise comes as a salesman. In this case, he’s selling a war against an alien enemy that has invaded Earth and has entirely taken over western Europe. Cage’s face is present for every media outlet, charismatically doing his best to persuade the public about the ongoing efforts of fighting the aliens. A recent breakthrough victory at Verdun calls into action Operation Downfall, an all out assault on the coasts of Europe in order to push back and defeat the enemy. Cage meets with the mastermind of the attack, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), who orders him to embed with the division set to land in France. Cage immediately resists and is swiftly arrested and knocked out, waking up to find himself a mere grunt at the feet of his commanding officer. As a sly turnaround, he is faced to swallow his own propaganda as Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) prepares him for battle. Without even a clue as to turn off the safety on his exoskeletal suit, he is thrown headfirst into battle the very next morning. Ill equipped to be of any real use on the battlefield, he’s incinerated rather quickly, but not before taking out a rare breed of alien with him. Instead of actually dying, Cage suddenly wakes up again in front of his commanding officer’s feet. As it turns out, the alien’s fluids seeped into his system, fluids that allow the enemy to reset the day and find the best solution to win in battle. Now, this fluid gives Cage the power to learn and anticipate what the enemy will do, and his only real hope in changing the course of the war is to find the only other person who has the same experience as him: a female soldier named Rita (Emily Blunt).

Even if its necessarily repetitive in structure, Edge of Tomorrow is pretty breezy in its propulsion. The entire setup prior to Cage’s first death feels clunky at times, but once he gets the hang of things, the film naturally engages. So much of this clearly resembles the mechanics of playing a video game, and that type of formula brings in some humor, if also lowered stakes. The other downside is that while the plot itself is twisty and pretty compelling, the development of the characters is something of an afterthought. Cruise at age fifty-one is as reliable as can be expected, and Emily Blunt acquits herself well to the tough girl attitude, but little is done to flesh out their characters or develop them outside of the requisite steps. There are a few moments of genuine resonance, but they’re pauses in the action rather than development of character. Where Edge of Tomorrow loses its momentum is when it enters its third act, where everything plays out in routine fashion, and worse, the resolution is a baffling cheat.

As directed by Doug Liman, Edge of Tomorrow is smart not be too reliant on montage. It often leaps forward to points where its assumed Cage has died so much in order to arrive at a given level of mastery. The action scenes also have a solid level of direction and execution, even if the beach invasion is an overt homage to the Omaha Beach sequence in Saving Private Ryan. What really works best is the sense of pure confusion Cage experiences the first time he lands on the beach. It’s not a war, but rather, a complete mess. Another underwhelming aspect here, however, is in the design and overall treatment of the aliens, which both resemble the machines from The Matrix, and don’t have much personality other than the standard animalistic urge for killing. It’s a bit of a minor criticism, yes, but in a film with a relatively fresh premise (based on the Japanese manga titled All You Need Is Kill), the enemy seems unoriginal. Even with its issues in the final act, its hard not be charmed by this film. In a summer environment where studios only feed audiences sequels and reboots, Edge of Tomorrow is a mostly clever diversion, certainly tastier than the other monotonous gruel.

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~ by romancinema on June 7, 2014.

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