Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow
You could be forgiven for writing off Edge of Tomorrow. Hell, I did. It’s a summer Sci-Fi action film starring Tom Cruise. You know, like we’ve had virtually every summer since War of The Worlds in 2005. The plot involves a character who relives one moment of time over and over and over again, like Groundhog’s Day or Source Code. Hell, it’s such a familiar device, you may feel stuck in a time loop…like one about seeing Tom Cruise in a Sci-Fi action film every summer. Over and over and over…you get the point. More over, this is the second summer Tom Cruise Sci-Fi action movie in a row to feature aliens. It also looks eerily similar to the visual style of last years Elysium, which failed to ignite much love amongst audiences. Adding it all up, you can pretty much write “been there, done that, no more please,” on the tombstone for Edge of Tomorrow, and get yourself mentally prepared for Michael Bay to ruin the rest of your summer.
But here’s the catch: Edge of Tomorrow takes all of these bad omens and turns them into a thoroughly enjoyable movie.
Learn from Your Mistakes
The first sign at this movie is not the standard cookie-cutter summer movie is that it is adapted from an excellent short novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, called All You Need is Kill. Though the stories diverge considerably, All You Need is Kill is slick, stylish, and not afraid to get down and dirty. A promising beginning.
Another excellent departure from the standard is that Tom Cruise is not playing the hero in this film…not exactly. He’s playing a selfish, amoral, conniving coward who accidentally becomes the hero through no merit of his own. It is almost like Tom Cruise (or at least his agent) has figured out exactly why people who hate Tom Cruise hate him. And they leverage this dislike to great effect. You are overjoyed every time Cruise gets murdered…until suddenly you aren’t. By starting out as a detestable little weasel, the audience is allowed to enjoy his every misstep. Cruise even yelps in pain and sighs in exasperation at each horrible death, to the delight of the audience. He knows you hate him. He wants you to. The first 20 deaths are a gift to you, a way to get all the bad blood out your system, so when the movie needs you to care about this character eventually, you can. Like the Russian audience in Rocky IV, you roar with blood-lust every time the object of your scorn gets thrashed off his feet. But every time he gets back up, you start to hate him a little less, until eventually you kind of admire him. That’s a neat trick.
You could almost argue that the maxim behind this movie is that familiarity breeds empathy, not contempt. Not many of the characters are what you would call likable. Sgt. Farell (Bill Paxton) is merciless, high handed, and a prick in the way that only true believers can be. Emily Blunt’s Vita Vrataski is cold, imperious, aloof, and completely willing to sacrifice everything and everyone in order to win. J Squad, to whom Cruise’s character is demoted, are pretty much every ugly stereotype of a “loser” you could imagine. And they hardly change. It’s your perception of them that changes instead. You see the same awful person long enough, you start to understand why they are awful. Which is the same reason most people are awful: they have a whole catalog of ugly shit in their personal baggage that they have to tote around that you never get to see. Edge of Tomorrow shows you what’s in those steamer trunks full of bad breaks and crap luck. The movie doesn’t change the characters into likable people…it changes your awareness of them enough, that you can look past their rough edges. That’s also a neat trick.
The last bit of expectation breaking that Edge of Tomorrow accomplishes is that it doesn’t overstay its welcome, plot wise. In a movie about endless repetition, the plot takes pains not to be predictable or dull. It murders Tom Cruise for 20 minutes…and then moves on. It shows lots of character interaction between Cruise and Blunt, and then moves on. It doggedly pushes forward in one direction, and then abandons that painstakingly plotted course for another tactic. It is even happy to throw the time looping powers and kick-ass power-armor out the window when they become too predictable. Much like a person actually trying to solve a complex puzzle with limited knowledge and resources, sometimes one path is just a dead end, and must be abandoned in favor of another solution, despite having worked at that path with blood, sweat and tears.
Just Missed the Landing
My only real gripe with Edge of Tomorrow is that it remembers that it is an action film at the end. Cruise and Blunt are dogged, fallible creatures who only slowly advance towards their goal by endless faltering steps…until the last 15 minutes where they fall into the Hollywood roles of action heroes. After being murdered by the smallest slip ups for hours, suddenly they are able to survive nearly any life-threatening situation. Not because they have worked out the painful solutions in advance, but because we’re reaching the end of the film, and a broken ankle or jammed gun is no longer expedient to the plot. And the ending can be seen as a bit of a cop out, especially when compared to the bleak ending of All You Need is Kill. Hollywood almost manages a completely consistent Sci-Fi vision, one that I was frankly delighted to witness unfolding, but just can’t stick the dismount. Despite that, I still think Edge of Tomorrow is a great deal of fun, and a well executed film that manages to defy a long stack of negative expectations. I can only hope all the films on my must-miss list turn out to be such refreshing pleasures.