My first thoughts upon exiting Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow was, regrettably, “Judging by these girls in the lobby who have just come out of The Fault in Our Stars, a lot of teenage boys are gonna use this movie to try and get laid.”
My SECOND thought was that, just as with the last two Mission: Impossible movies, Tom Cruise’s ability to work with the right director and story can trump his utter unlikability.
My third reaction, upon coming home, was the feeling of relief washing over my brain when I finally figured out the guy I knew and couldn’t place was Sparky from the Speed Racer movie.
Now I can finally get down to the business of a review. Edge of Tomorrow is not spectacularly original. It shares DNA with several different movies. Though when you actually put down on paper that it is essentially a video game crossed with Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day, it does sound a little bit more interesting. (If only they’d had Cruise waking up to the soothing sounds of “I Got You, Babe.”) The plot is based on a novel named All You Need is Kill, thus ensuring I now have a need to read it. If they’d kept that bit of awesomeness instead of renaming it to sound like an exhibit at the 1942 World’s Fair, I think people would be a bit more interested in finding out what it’s about. What happens is essentially this: after a Starship Troopers-style opening that manages to eliminate a lot of exposition, Tom Cruise gets shanghaied into a dangerous assignment by a general (Brendon Gleeson) using what I am pretty sure is an illegal transfer from one army to another. But hey. FUTURE! So we’ll let it go. When he balks at it, the general basically sends him off to be murdered. One would think he would be regarded as kind of a creep about this, but since it’s Tom Cruise and he’s being weasely, we let it go.
I don’t think it can completely be a coincidence that the film’s release coincides with the 70th anniversary of D-Day since it involves the wanton slaughter of troops on a French beach. This time the bad guys aren’t Nazis, however. They are Sentinels from the Matrix movies. …wait, wait, I’ve just been informed that they are, in fact, called Mimics. Sure they are. And they’re extraterrestrials from another planet that seem to exhibit an insect-like structure with different classes within their species, but are full of alien crazy DNA. When Cruise dies on that beach, he wakes up the previous day no worse for the wear, but understandably confused. And then he respawns again. And again.
I won’t go into the details from there as I’d like it to still have some surprises for folks. (I’m not sure how much the trailers gave away.) But Emily Blunt figures heavily into the plot and if there’s someone in the film that makes it work most, it’s probably her. Dubbed the “Full Metal Bitch,” she is practically a super-soldier against the Mimics and with her physicality in the film, it feels believable. She is sold as their post-modern Captain America and propped up as a propaganda figure that will sell the war effort. Hers is the most difficult role in the movie. She is able to portray her character as starting from scratch every time in terms of an emotional arc, but it feels like she also carries an emotional thruline over the course of the entire movie. Yet they don’t feel contradictory. I’m sure editing and a good script have a lot to do with this, but it really is a masterful job by the three elements to combine into one great performance.
The other major cog making things work is Liman. He’s had, let’s call it an interesting career path. He’s still got to be best known for The Bourne Identity where he ironically saved the Bond franchise without even knowing it. I am a fan of Swingers and the underrated Go as well. Since then he’s done movies that are basically middling though. This is definitely a return to form for him and his best film since he kicked off the Bourne franchise. The thing about Liman is that he’s a stylish director, but he’s never had a clear enough signature to make up for a lack of material at his fingertips. That’s not a problem here. One gets the feeling he really wanted to tear into this material. (And if not, he does a great job of faking it.) His work on the combat scenes is extremely well done, proving to be adequately harrowing in a way that a lot of sci-fi combat does not prove to be. The cartoonish aspects where we see Cruise getting maimed over and over also work surprisingly well. The fact that they work together given that for most of the runtime there are little in the way of immediate consequences is a testament to how well it is put together.
Would I have liked to have seen a more hardcore version of the movie? Sure. But we get a surprisingly rough and tumble time as it is, considering who Warners is undoubtably selling it to. The violence level is somewhere along the line of the Matrix. I’m a little surprised to see it walking away with a PG-13, but I can’t blame them for going with it if they could get it. Must be the Tom and Jerry aspects of it that softened it for the MPAA. Just one cut away and everything is fine.
These elements are put together into an extremely solid package that, despite feeling cobbled together from various sources, comes across on the screen as something of an antidote to big, dumb tentpole films by offering both style AND substance. Despite some rather standard nonsensical sci-fi cliches, it does not feel like a stupid film where a viewer is forced to turn their brain off, at least as long as they are able to use the central concept as a springboard to get to the more meaty material. Sort of like, say, Back to the Future. If you actually try to figure out the physics of it, you may go mad. But the physics aren’t the point.
As I am sure it has already been made clear through my pointed commentary, I have a dislike of Tom Cruise’s personality that he displays in every movie he does that borders on being comical. So if I can see a film like Edge of Tomorrow and come out saying it is one of the best crowd-pleasers of the summer, I think it carries some weight. And that is exactly what I’m saying.
(Four damns given out of five)