It’s official. I love summer blockbusters again.
After a pathetic showing of big budget tentpoles last year, I found myself wondering if I had finally lost that wide eyed, childlike enjoyment of huge action movies. The tentpoles of 2014 have so far been one long exercise in proving me wrong, and shockingly enough, this little Tom Cruise movie that nobody was really looking forward to just might be the best of the bunch.
The story takes place in the near future. An Alien race known as the mimics has all but whipped out our armies, with one last battle on the beaches of France ultimately deciding the fate of the human race. We center on Major Bill Cage (Tom Cruise), a cowardly army public relations consultant who has not seen one second of battle. Ultimately, he is forced into the fight, and is killed fairly quickly. However, right before he dies, he manages to kill one of the ‘Alpha’ Mimics which transfers it’s blood into his. As such, he gains the ability to reset the day, finding himself re-awakening in the day before the battle every time he meets one of his many demises. Seeking help, he befriends war legend Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) and the two team up to use Bill’s new ability to save the future.
Edge of Tomorrow is better then it has any right to be. The premise, at first glance is fairly generic, and it certainly seems as though Tom Cruise has been in about 5 million of these cyber punk Sci Fi movies. Even so, it overcomes these shortcomings at nearly every turn through fantastic performances, smart storytelling, and pure blockbuster entertainment.
I’ve always loved Tom Cruise, and have been really disappointed to see people abandon him over the years due to his personal antics. This film not only exemplifies why he is one of the absolute best leading men around, but allows him to subvert his onscreen persona so effectively, that even non fans could be brought around. Unlike the stoic, confident, and efficient characters he has grown so used to playing in films such as ‘Jack Reacher’ and ‘Oblivion’, Bill is an utter wimp. The man has hardly ever even held a gun before, and initially reacts to his new circumstances with utter fear and incompetence. Cruise plays this up for all it is worth, completely committing to the sheer physical comedy of dying so many times (you will hear Tom Cruise scream like a little girl, and it’s as funny as it sounds), while still remaining likable and intelligent enough to where we root for him to succeed. His growth into a skilled fighter and tactician is wonderfully complemented by his fantastic chemistry with Emily Blunt, who is a wonderful action heroine in her own right. We come to care about these two very much, and the willingness of Cruise and Blunt to do all of their own stunts places us as far as we can go into these characters. Also, the always fun Bill Paxton has a riotous supporting turn as a gung ho Master Sergeant that is good for many laughs.
The storytelling here is razor sharp. Screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Jez/John Henry Butterworth along with director Doug Liman establish a playful, kinetic tone early on, and keep it going throughout. There is so much comedy here, and not an ounce of it feels forced. It’s all really strong physical, and character based comedy. It feels like the type of film Paul Verhoeven would make in his prime, without directly aping that style. Additionally, the movie very intelligently alters Cruise’s perspective on this ordeal, without directly spoon-feeding the audience. To save on spoilers, let’s just say that the Bill we get at the half-way point is significantly more weathered then the one we meet at first.
The action is inventive, and awe inspiring. I’ve never found Doug Liman, who previously helmed The Bourne Identity, and Mr and Mrs Smith, to be a particularly skilled action director, but all of that changes here. Coupled with crisp cinematography by Dion Beebe, Liman crafts sequences full of urgency, and innovation. The sheer designs of the mech suits that the soldiers use is impressive. They’re incredibly mobile, and full of deadly tricks. Watching these things square off with the Mimics gave me the same sense of childlike joy that many got out of Pacific Rim. It’s straight out of the pages of the manga it’s based on, and it’s flat out awesome.
The only major sticking point I have here is the ending. Not only is it a touch generic, and confusing, but ultimately it feels like a bit of a cop out. It’s nothing horrible or movie ruining, in fact the climax that leads into it is rather spectacular, but it certainly is slightly annoying in a movie that was impeccably constructed otherwise.
This is a very impressive film on nearly all levels. In a summer that is full of old properties being re-polished, this is something utterly fresh. It is by no means the dour, boring film sold by the trailers. It’s a movie full of humor, ideas, and fun action sequences. Slightly lame ending aside, this is one of the strongest blockbusters I’ve seen in years, and it certainly does not deserve to get buried by the likes of The Fault In Our Stars (which I will give a chance…I’ll have my words about that in a couple days).