June 05, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Sarah Connor ain't got s**t on me!

Grade: B
Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.

In her tremendous LA Weekly article last month titled “How YouTube and Internet Journalism Destroyed Tom Cruise, Our Last Real Movie Star,” Amy Nicholson analyzes how the movie industry and our concept of celebrity has irrevocably changed in the age of social and tabloid media. Her central focus is Tom Cruise, a superstar with still-underrated credentials whose popular but vigorously private professional persona—much it it built on skillfully chosen dramatic roles—was upended by poor individual choices, a changing media landscape and an unfortunate afternoon spent hopping on Oprah’s couch.

Nicholson’s contention is that the mainstream action roles Cruise has taken with increasingly frequency in recent years is the flailing attempt by an aging actor (Cruise turns 52 next month) to reclaim  his evaporating popularity. Undoubtedly, lesser roles in Knight and Day, Jack Reacher and even Oblivion have dimmed Cruise’s star waggage. Moreover, a fifth Mission: Impossible, a Top Gun sequel, and—shudder—another Jack Reacher movie are all in development.

But even amid this apparent professional tailspin, Cruise remains a bankable, quality actor. And when his still-formidable ability meets entertaining material like Edge of Tomorrow, well, people will start talking about a Cruise comeback.

In a not-so-distant future, aliens called Mimics—which resemble the multi-tentacled Sentinels from the Matrix sequels—have invaded Earth and overrun most of Europe. Buoyed by a recent win at Verdun, mankind's allied military forces, headed by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), have assembled for an all-out assault on the west coast of France. Brigham orders Major William Cage, a popular Army PR flack with no combat experience, to the frontline to publicize the expected victory. When the cowardly Cage resists Brigham’s orders, the general orders Cage arrested, knocked cold and shipped to an airbase at Heathrow Airport, accompanied by a fabricated backstory that Cage is a deserter and con man.

It’s a head-scratcher why no one recognizes Cage, an omnipresence on television and other mediums reporting military propaganda and inspiring thousands of enlistments. Nevertheless, Cage is soon thrust into a battle squadron and rappelling into the doomed invasion. However, Cage also manages to kill a large mimic, and as the creature’s blood oozes over him, Cage blacks out and awakens days earlier at the exact moment he turns up at Heathrow.

Cage’s bloody imbibing gives him the ability to loop back to the moment he arrives at the base every time he dies. Cage remembers everything from loop to loop; no one else around him does. The only person who believes Cage’s deja vu-doo is Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the special forces heroine of Verdun who teams with Cage to correct the military’s impending mistake and find an actual path to win the war.

The script is adapted from the Hiroshi Sakurazaka light novel All You Need Is Kill. Cinematic inspirations include the likes of the Terminator films, Source Code and even Groundhog Day. And as you probably already guessed, the screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jaz and John-Henry Butterworth is best left unanalyzed lest you find yourself plummeting down a logical rabbit hole.

Indeed, interpreting most of the film’s time-looping twists and turns is best left to a very patient and forgiving quantum physicist. Frankly, sometimes it feels like the narrative construct is an elaborate excuse to repeatedly show a particular shot of Blunt’s toned, prone psyche (not that I’m complaining).

The film’s entertainment quotient is raised thanks to the light touch of Cruise and director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity; Jumper). Both interject welcome moments of levity into an otherwise dark plot that requires the repeated death of its protagonist. Moreover, Cruise is smart enough to embrace his character’s faults and cowardly goofiness, ceding the ramrod hero role to his female costar. It’s a show of confidence on Cruise’s part, one that elevates both himself and the film’s subtle subversiveness of foisting a protagonist that's essentially the embodiment of the video gamer culture: play, die, repeat.

Moreover, Liman avoids the script’s biggest potential pitfall: the tedium of its looping storyline. Through jump cuts and deft variations, Liman keeps the repeating sequences from becoming monotonous. And Liman eventually turns the tables with scenes that the audience sees for the first time only to discover Cage has already experienced them hundreds of times on his arduous path to elusive victory.

Unfortunately, the film’s final act is visually and narratively murky and even mundane, a conventional  island amid a sea of kinetic cleverness. Regardless, the ride to that point is a heckuva hoot. The future of humankind hangs in the balance in Edge of Tomorrow. But we already know one thing that survives: Tom Cruise’s career.

No comments: