Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)
Directed by: Doug Liman
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie, Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Starring: Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Emily Blunt, Tom Cruise
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 113 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In a not so distant future, Earth has been invaded by an alien race called the Mimics. Humans have looked past each other’s racial, religious and socio-economic differences by fighting together against their common enemy, but it seems that no army in the world or its arsenal of weapons can match the lightning speed or ruthlessness of the Mimic forces. Lt. Col. Bill Cage has been spared from combat during most of his career but, after his sudden drop in rank, he is forced to embark on suicide mission alongside more experienced soldiers, in a last ditch effort to defend the globe against its alien invaders. Unfortunately, within a few minutes of on the ground fighting, Cage is killed….but then wakes up again at the start of the same day…..
Edge Of Tomorrow is in one way very similar to Tom Cruise’s last science-fiction picture, the rather lame Oblivion; it almost constantly regurgitates ideas, images and situations from previous films, mostly of the science-fiction kind, though of course many have said that it’s a partial remake of Groundhog Day and it’s definitely true. However, Edge Of Tomorrow is different from Oblivion it’s actually good, though not to my mind quite as good as the general critical opinion gives the impression it is. Whilst Oblivion just lamely pinched idea after idea from previous material and blandly stuck each one on-screen, Edge Of Tomorrow is more knowing and even honest about its inspirations. It’s a riveting, lightning paced film which doesn’t contain an ounce of fat, though by the time it was finished I wasn’t entirely satisfied. Much like when I saw the last Bond movie, which people were praising to the skies all over the place, I was shaken but not stirred, and, while it indeed has quite a lot to recommend it and has a freshness lacking in, for instance, the last three or four Marvel adventures, it feels very comprised and awkwardly balanced between the supposed needs of a big commercial ‘blockbuster’ and an more ambitious, daring science-fiction head stratcher.
Supposed newsreel footage succinctly gives us all the background we need in the first minute, except for showing us the actual aliens, and the film does a good job of withholding their appearance till as long as possible. Cruise is a bit different from normal, playing a coward who is afraid of the sight of blood. Cruise’s star appears to have diminished of late [though you can almost guarantee that whenever he goes on an impossible mission the box office will be good], and I don’t think the actor helps himself by usually either looking bored or playing variations on the same parts. Edge Of Tomorrow though has his best performance since Magnolia, the actor, often by just doing small bits of business, gradually transforming into someone more like the Cruise we are used to and making it seem believable. We don’t even see that cheesy grin until the very last scene. In the early scenes he makes you like his character even though he’s a liar as well as a chicken, which means that when he’s thrown into the horror of battle, it’s all the more shocking. The scenes leading up to the first battle have a real feeling of realism about them, even with Bill Paxton [haven’t seen you for a while Bill, welcome back] virtually riffing on his character from Aliens and provided with lots of lines like: “No courage without fear” – in fact, apart from the hardware and exo skeleton suits, it feels like we’re watching a World War 2 movie more than anything else, something that is taken to extremes when Bill finds himself one of the first soldiers to be on a French beach in a set piece which deliberately evokes the opening of Saving Private Ryan with its intensity and camerawork [o for the days when shakycam was a new thing!], though sadly the aliens are very the same old thing we’ve seen loads of times before when finally shown.
Bill is tasered about two or three scenes in and wakes up as a soldier going to war, but that’s nothing compared with what happens during the battle. He is shot and shoots his killer, but the alien’s blood seeps all over him and then, suddenly, he wakes up at the beginning of his day again. Much has been said about how Edge Of Tomorrow soon develops a computer game aesthetic. You have Die, Reset To Save Point, Repeat Level, Going Into An Already Trodden Ground With Prior Knowledge Of The Coming Events, and so forth. Thankfully, unlike the wretched Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, it works for the film even if you’re not into computer games, and Edge Of Tomorrow is careful enough not to show the same layers [I may as well call them that!] too many times. Sometimes we jump ahead considerably and are not aware that we have done so until one of the characters knows something that nobody else. This film could have been tiresomely repetitive, but the adventures of Bill, as he first learns how to survive his death, then saves the life of Rita Vrataski, a poster girl for the war effort who has the same ‘gift’ that he has, and then has to team up with her to her to try to end the war, rarely repeat. There’s lots of sneaking in and out of buildings, chasing around, deaths for Bill [my favourite one is when he tries to roll under a moving truck and gets swished], and hints of a romance, though Liman never stops his film moving, which makes for a constantly exciting watch.
Liman has up to now been rather good at action, but he goes overboard with the fast cutting and shakycam in some scenes here so that you can only just tell what is going on. There’s a great bit early on when Bill is hanging from a helicopter while stuff is going on all around, all done in a single shot, that is simply awe-inspiring, but for too much of the action the filmmakers don’t seem to want us to see it properly. A car dash and a helicopter crash are especially poor, giving the impression that we are watching a bunch of epileptic six year olds trying to shoot a film rather than an actual film, and in the latter case it fails to hide a dreadful CGI helicopter. The effects are generally decent, but the film is very unimaginative in design overall, failing to really show us anything we haven’t seen before. The storyline nonetheless works right until the end where we get a simply ghastly ending that has the same effect of Source Code’s. Remember how perfectly that film would have been if it had ended on Jake Gyllenhaal’s magic moment, but how they felt a need to add a happy but stupid and insulting coda? This film is the same, though as with Source Code there is a school of thought saying that the ending is more sophisticated than it seems, something I don’t really buy. The original script for this film, which was on 2010’s Black List of best unproduced screenplays, was heavily rewritten so little of Hiroshi Salurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill [which is what the film is being released as in Japan] remained, and that includes the ending which was originally ironic and bitter. I think that audiences do accept that kind of ending, but the studios tend to think they don’t.
It seems to me that Warner Bros. really appeared to have controlled this movie to its detriment, right down to the score by Christophe Beck. Beck’s a good composer with his own voice, but for much of the time his score sounds like the usual drab but sadly ubiquitous Zimmer-esque stuff. Beck says that whenever he wrote a decent theme, the studio told him not to use it, which is another depressing indication of the state of film music, at least in major Hollywood movies, today. I don’t really want to criticise Edge Of Tomorrow too much, because it is very entertaining throughout and you certainly won’t be bored for a moment. Some elements are very well judged, such as the amount of humour. My rating for the film is still quite good. It’s just that it could have been so much more. Watching it, I kept thinking how better it would have been if it had been made in the 80’s or even the 90’s. So many films like this seem controlled by the studio to within an inch of their life. A good example is the ‘PG-13’ rating which the film obviously felt obliged to have. This certainly doesn’t apply to every film, but I really think that Edge Of Tomorrow could have done with some blood and guts, firstly to really enhance the horror of the war, and secondly to have more fun with Cruise dying throughout in a variety of ways, some of them gruesome, but often not seen. Imagine what, say, Paul Verhoeven [whose Starship Troopers seems to have inspired this film] would have done with this subject back in the day. The film also feels very cold, as if the life has been squeezed out of it, and I can’t be the only one getting tired of the bluish-gray pallets being used for films like this.
Emily Blunt, who for a while now seems to be on the edge of mega-stardom but hasn’t quite achieved it, is, as with every film she graces, a definite highlight. As an actress her greatest strength is the down-to-earth believability she brings to all of her roles. Her and Tom don’t have much chemistry though. There are some who are saying that Edge Of Tomorrow, which despite its good reviews seems to be just doing okay at the box office [though it’s much, much better than Maleficent], has suffered commercially from Cruise starring in it, though I think that’s a little harsh. It’s one of those films that I wanted to love, and wanted to rave about, but don’t feel able to, though I can still recommend it.