Monday, June 9, 2014

Based On A Book?! For Edge Of Tomorrow, I Would Have Guessed A Video Game!

The Good: Good plot concept, Mostly decent special effects
The Bad: Goes for some cheap laughs over smart science fiction, No impressive performances, Light on character development
The Basics: Treading away from the nihilism of a protagonist who repeatedly dies, Edge Of Tomorrow takes a formulaic story of humans resisting alien invaders and adds a time-travel element that makes it seem a bit fresher than it actually is.

Summer Blockbuster Season has truly arrived. One knows it is undeniably here when the films start taking a turn for the big, impressive special effects films that have little resemblance to sensibility or compelling storylines. Last year, the film of this ilk right around this time was Pacific Rim (reviewed here!) and this year there is a film that mimics the feel and sense of style of that film: Edge Of Tomorrow. This weekend’s two big films were based on books and Edge Of Tomorrow is one viewers would likely never guess came from a novel (unlike The Fault In Our Stars). Most of Edge Of Tomorrow has the look and feel of watching a video game – a massive war/space invasion game – play out.

Edge Of Tomorrow is based upon a Japanese novel (All You Need Is Kill) and it is worth noting up front that I have never read the book, so this is a very pure review of the film alone. Edge Of Tomorrow is a big-budget science fiction film that utilizes a time loop, much like the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause And Effect” (reviewed here!) did over twenty years ago. The time travel conceit that dominates much of Edge Of Tomorrow is explained well-enough, but the sheer number of repetitions through the time line make the film feel increasingly tedious. For genre fans, the film is more monotonous than fresh and it is very much like watching a video game played out over and over again.

Five years after the Earth is first attacked by a powerful alien race called the Mimics, much of Europe has been decimated in the ensuing war. However, an international military force has finally developed a reasonable defense with their “New Jacket” technology. With the first waves of soldiers outfitted with New Jacket technology killing thousands of “mimics” in their first assault, there appears to be hope for humanity. Operation Downfall is publicized as the big offensive that might finally liberate humanity and its public face, Major William Cage is drafted, under threat of arrest, to participate in the ground assault on a beachfront in France. Unfortunately, during the battle, for which Cage is ill-trained and not ideally equipped, cage is killed by a giant Mimic whose blood melts his skull, killing him.

After rather vividly dying, Cage wakes up twenty-four hours earlier in the unit of grunts who are told by the Master Sergeant that he is a deserter, where he is despised, confused and mistrusted. As he goes into battle slightly better prepared, he realizes he is experiencing something more than just déjà vu. Instead, when he is killed again, he decides after his resurrection to try to learn more to attempt to survive the battle. Despite better training, Cage is continually killed until he meets up with superstar soldier Rita Vrataski in the battle and he saves her life. When he does, she informs him that he should find her when he wakes up and the next times through the timeline, he leaves the unit he awakens to to find Rita at a nearby training facility. Convincing her and Dr. Carter that he is reliving the battle each day, Rita informs him that she experienced the same thing when she encountered a special Mimic’s blood. Rita tasks Cage with a new mission: bypass Operation Downfall to find the Mimic hive entity and destroy it. After extensive training and dying many times in the attempt to get off the beach, Cage and Rita successfully survive one battle only to have Rita die horribly as the invasion spreads to London and the pair makes it to a farm house. After several permutations, Cage works to find the way to win the beach battle, survive the farm house encounter, and make it to the dam that is housing the horde of Mimics.

For a story with a painfully dull middle, director Doug Liman does the best he can to keep the flow going. Instead of constantly cutting back to the beginning of Cage’s sequence, Liman smartly moves the cuts to the relative points of diversion. So, for many of the times Cage dies, the film immediately cuts to how the sudden soldier manages to survive the same death. Conceptually, Edge Of Tomorrow is actually a surprisingly simple film, but it is a hard one to stretch out in a compelling way to make it visually interesting.

As a result, Edge Of Tomorrow oscillates between exceptional special effects battle sequences and long scenes of tedious exposition. The exposition is necessary at first to understand the mechanics of the film’s time-travel conceit, but as the film moves toward tracking down the Omega Mimic, how Cage has to continue to explain and convince his predicament to people becomes tiresome. By the time Cage meets with Brigham a second time, the viewer gets it and most will just want the film to get where it’s going. The execution of the idea is hardly as entertaining as the writers, producers, and director might hope.

Thus, much of the movie’s entertainment value comes in the “wow” factor from the special effects. The mimics move ridiculously fast and the metal-framed soldiers are an easy excuse for the digitized versions of the characters to move in ways that defy the otherwise real physics the film tries to maintain. The battles feel very much like a first person shooter or MMORPG war game, but when the film slows down to speeds that the effects can be appreciated, much of Edge Of Tomorrow is appropriately visually stunning.

On the character front, there is little in the way of actual development. Instead, characters come around to accepting the film’s plot conceit; they do not truly develop and evolve, they are merely persuaded.

As for the acting, Edge Of Tomorrow is led by Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. While both Cruise and Blunt plausibly interact with their virtual environments and entities, neither brings much to the role other than their ability to run around and use heavy firepower. Blunt is poor casting for a supersoldier, regardless of Rita’s dependence upon her exoskeleton. She is too waifish to believably be a solider who runs around, firing weapons and slashing oversized cleavers and many of the moments her character is put in mortal peril her expressions are stiff as opposed to professionally restrained. As for Tom Cruise, his role of Cage is virtually interchangeable with any number of his prior action hero roles where his character works hard to either enter a conflict of evade enemies. He is credible running around playing soldier, but he brings nothing to the role that viewers have not seen from him in many, many other Tom Cruise films. If anything, Cage is one of the least charismatic Cruise performances.

In the end, Edge Of Tomorrow is a largely unmemorable special effects-driven alien invasion film and one suspects it will have a long-term impact on par with Battle: Los Angles (reviewed here!), which is to say that while the film might make a splash now, it will be forgotten by the time it hits Blu-Ray and DVD.

For other works with Emily Blunt, please visit my reviews of:
The Five-Year Engagement
The Adjustment Bureau
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen
Charlie Wilson’s War
Dan In Real Life
The Devil Wears Prada


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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