Thursday, June 5, 2014
Review: "Edge of Tomorrow"
Some people are bound to dismiss "Edge of Tomorrow" as a mash-up of other, better science fiction movies. And there's no denying there are elements of other themes familiar to the genre -- alien invaders, time travel, nifty futuristic hardware, existential questioning of one's identity.
In fact, if someone hasn't already labeled it the love child of "Groundhog Day" and "Starship Troopers," then I'm copywriting the phrase.
But despite coming across as less than original, it's a compelling sci-fi thriller and a solid star vehicle for Tom Cruise. He's taken a beating in the press lately and his last few films haven't fared well at the box office, though I thought last year's "Oblivion" -- with which "Edge of Tomorrow" shares more than a few similarities -- was an exemplary example of the genre.
The kick here is that Cruise's character, William Cage, is thrown into a battle to retake Normandy from the alien bugs, dubbed "mimics." He's had no combat training, and can't even flip off the safety on his weapons. But he strives to persevere against the overwhelming odds and... dies almost immediately. Because that's exactly what would happen to someone in that situation.
Except that he wakes up on the morning of the day before the battle, and has to do it all over again. He lives a little longer the second try, but not much. He wakes up again, stays alive another bit more during the fight, and so on.
It seems that during his first foray, some special alien blood/goo got absorbed into his own system, giving him the same ability the alien overlord has to "reset the day." If things aren't going well for it in the battle, it travels back in time and tries again. Now Cage has the same power to use against the enemy.
The metaphysics and specifics of this are never really explained, and in some ways it's better that the filmmakers don't even try. This is hardcore suspension-of-disbelief territory, so the audience had better just swallow the conceit and move on.
Not only is Cage not a seasoned soldier when his journey begins, he's not even a particularly likeable guy. An advertising flack who lost his business when the invasion tanked the global economy, he was given a major's rank and the job of "selling the war" to young recruits. He was an expert at boosting the cool exo-skeleton "jacket" armor the soldiers wear, and idolizing heroes like Rita "The Angel of Verdun" Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who managed to kill hundreds of mimics on her first combat mission.
Turns out Rita previously had the same ability as Cage, and became an expert killer through hundreds of conquests that were constantly reset. But eventually the power fades, so the two team up to put an end to the hive mind of the aliens before the slaughter on the beach even begins.
If the comparison to "Groundhog Day" seemed a little strange at first, it soon becomes clearer. By reliving the same day over and over again, Cage gets countless attempts to set things right. He saves the life of one of his squad-mates, and maps out the battlefield with Rita in a seemingly futile attempt to win the beach head. He also tries warning his superiors about the disaster about to unfold, which goes nowhere.
There's a lot of action, obviously, but also some unexpected humor and pathos as Cage finds himself growing closer to Rita, only to watch her die day after day. Director Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity") and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez and John-Henry Butterworth adapt the novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka by making the main character seem as real and grounded as possible in an unreal and bizarre setting.
If there's a weak spot, it's the aliens, which never really rise above the level of video game threat. Vaguely metallic, they look like balls of tentacles that whirl around the fight, not unlike those rubber Koosh Ball toys. They're just targets waiting to be blown up, and never seem to gather any real power of menace.
Still, "Edge of Tomorrow" is clearly a better-than-average science fiction thriller. Even if it steals from other movies, at least it borrows from the best.