Friday, June 6, 2014

"Edge of Tomorrow": The Alien Groundhog Day

Now In Theaters
When reviewing Edge of Tomorrow, I think it’s worthwhile to make a comparison to last year’s Pacific Rim.  Both films are summer sci-fi blockbusters, strangely not interested in producing franchises, but instead focus delivering a solid movie-going experience on their own merits without the benefit of instant name-brand recognition.  Pacific Rim succeeded in this endeavor by being an effects-driven wonder that’s not particularly intellectually deep, but incredibly fun to watch.  Edge of Tomorrow succeeds at being its own animal entirely, also not very intellectually engaging, but is a very good character-focused drama revolving around one man’s transformation into a worthy soldier.  I don’t think Edge of Tomorrow is going to raise as much of a stir as Pacific Rim did, but taking the film for what it is and what it’s trying to be, it succeeds at being an entertaining, sci-fi action flick that doesn’t pander to its audience.

Tom Cruise plays Major Cage, a military spokesperson who is responsible for recruiting the majority of the military forces now engaged in a defensive war against an invading alien threat.  Cage is a major in title only, having never seen combat before, and, through a sequence of admittedly contrived circumstances, Cage is dropped into a warzone as a private, with no training to his name and no idea how to use his equipment.  Cage dies that day, but not without being covered in special alien blood, which allows him to reset time when he dies.  No one believes Cage has this ability, so with the help of a soldier who also formerly had this ability herself (played by Emily Blunt), Cage seeks to train himself and memorize the battle he lives again and again so that he can destroy the alien hive mind and save humanity from its imminent destruction.

The first act of the film is largely spent watching Tom Cruise die in a multitude of creative, hilarious, and stupid ways, and my gods is it gratifying to see this egotistical ass (of a character) snuff it over and over again.  And he just keeps coming back for more, like some big screen version of Super Meat Boy.  But as he keeps dying, something changes in him, and the film transitions accordingly to a more serious tone to accommodate him.  Major Cage begins to care for people other than himself, and seeing the same people die again and again hardens him into the soldier that his title should have implied that he was.  The film shifts here from focusing on his deaths by ineptitude, but instead looks at his life, making you ask yourself just how many times he's lived this hell by now.  It’s a solidly done character arc, and because the film focuses on Cage without any deviation, the film works as a pretty good character study.

Special mention must also be given though for the alien designs, which are some of the most interesting I’ve seen on film in recent memory.  They’re called mimics, and googling a picture of one is not going to do it justice.  It’s the way these things move that strikes me.  The CG animators really pulled out all the stops on these guys, making them move somewhere between a slither and a liquid ooze, sped up to be immediately threatening and deadly.  For the purposes of the plot, these aliens could have really looked like anything, but this is a well-done design that deserved recognition.

I do have a few nitpicks about the plot, primarily that the circumstances by which Cage gets pushed into soldierdom seem a bit contrived, serving only to push the film forward into its main premise.  It’s forgivable because the rest of the film is so solid, but I would have liked to see a bit more thought put into Cage’s background and the consequences that would have on his reduced status.  Furthermore, Emily Blunt’s character seems a bit stuck in the role of spouting exposition for the first half of the movie, and while I recognize that there needs to be a lot of ground-work laid in relating a story about otherworldly beings and time travel, a bit more showing and a bit less telling would have been appreciated.  Even a cut-away to past events with Blunt’s narration would have sufficed, but I guess it wasn’t in the effects budget, so we’re stuck with Blunt’s super-serious face instead.

All in all, though, Edge of Tomorrow is a very solid movie.  Its aspirations aren’t high, but it succeeds at telling a good story with good acting and good effects.  I wouldn’t say that it’s as fun or mind-blowingly awesome as last year’s Pacific Rim, but if you’re looking for a sci-fi flick this summer that doesn’t have Marvel’s name stamped on it, Edge of Tomorrow is worth the time and money to see it in the theater.

Have a favorite sci-fi flick that isn’t franchise bait?  Let me know in the comments below.

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