Saturday, June 7, 2014

Edge Of Tomorrow (2014): Movie Thoughts

As humanity takes its final breaths after a devastating alien invasion, military PR officer, Lt. Col. Bill Cage(Tom Cruise), is summoned by high command and ordered to join the front lines of a massive final assault. Completely green in the realm of combat, Cage’s protests are countermanded, as he is knocked unconscious and dropped off where the united military forces prepare for the anticipated Operation Downfall near Verdun. And despite his unending wishes to avoid service if he has to, a sneak attack on the human forces sends Cage and fellow soldiers into what looks like a clear pre-emptive slaughter. Upon the hellish battlefield, it is here that Cage’s encounter with the fearsome MIMIC entities leaves him dead..Only for him to awaken back at the drop off spot, merely hours before. In a bizarre twist, his day has reset, and seems to do so every time he is killed. Seeing the advantages to this potentially nightmarish predicament, it is here that he runs into celebrated war hero, Rita Vratatski ( “The Angel Of Verdun”, played to perfection by Emily Blunt), who apparently is familiar with this phenomenon. Together, this shared knowledge is put to the ultimate test as the alien ability to “reset” time is now in Cage’s hands, but the MIMICs are never to be underestimated.

Based on the 2004 light novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and the subsequent manga, the puzzlingly retitled, Edge Of Tomorrow is easily one of the better J-media adaptations imaginable. Taking a cue from the original book, and dismantling the often typical otaku archetypes and attitudes, and keeping the speculative wackiness of the universe makes for an effective retooling. For the typical “kill ‘em all” storylines in military action films of the past, it’s refreshing to see a fantasy take on it with such humor and energy. Doug Liman, working with an often thin, but personality-riddled script by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez & John-Henry Butterworth, creates the ultimate in-video game experience, complete with just enough gravity and laughs to keep it fun throughout. Embodying the action game scheme by way of a Vonnegut meets Grimwood meets Groundhog Day manner, where characters relive the same day, only to exploit this as a means of tactical advancement.

The catch here being that death is the only trigger for a new life.

Which makes for the film’s most sadistically funny conceit; we get to see Tom Cruise die an absurd number of times attempting to turn the tide of this most dire 24 hours! And considering years of the media, and subsequent public disdain for the Hollywood legend, there is an audience who is ready and willing to partake in such a twisted idea. Thankfully, so is Cruise, who delivers one of his most infectiously fun performances in an action film, ever. He’s so ready to throw himself into proceedings, that it almost feels masochistic at points. But this is well earned, as the character of Cage starts out as your classic combat dodging mannequin, stopping at nothing to ditch active duty, even going so far as to blackmailing his commanding officer played by the ever wonderful Brendan Gleeson. Starting at this particular compass point, Cruise’s arc involves him growing more and more acquainted with faces on the field (including a still bug hunting, Bill Paxton in top form), as well as a concept of sacrifice. Which leads us to the biggest surprise of all..

This technically isn’t even a Tom Cruise vehicle..

Enter Rita Vratatski, the woman who’s surprise victory over the MIMIC menace led to the proliferation of the military’s exoskeleton project, and is hailed as an almost mythic war hero. Emily Blunt’s rendition of the character is one that not only aces the original book’s, but becomes a thrilling touchpoint for big budget action cinema. Where Cruise plays something of a central role throughout the film, it is ultimately Blunt’s presence that heralds something to the effect of a torch passing. A character with only the mission, and fragments of a past that she guards quite closely makes for a refreshing business lead. She knows how the “game” works, and is entrusting her fate to a man who must only help her by way of dying repeatedly for the sake of self-improvement. But when she can fight, its a raw exhibition of dedication and poise. Even better, she is not idealized in any classic manner of otaku fetishism. While we may have experienced a number of action heroes who happen to be female in the past, the idea that this is not only a non-issue, but one whom a once vaunted action star would defer to in a most sincere sense, is significant. Cruise, is very much the sidekick!

Soon into the midsection of the film, it becomes implied that there are far more renditions of this day that are not shown, leaving us to play along as Cage and Vratatski attempt to outwit fate time and again. If any flaws begin to invade the story, this is where it happens. Even so, it almost seems to be parodying what we expect from big action films, and having a blast while doing it. The loop storyline becomes a kind of window for us to better understand not only how the war could be won, but also of our leads who couldn’t be from greater divisions. Where the film begins to flirt with the implications of their unique moral places, is also where it flags a bit until the shaky finale. We never get a full exploration of their changing worldviews by way of this bizarre situation, and as such, the film must be taken as more a ride than anything else. After all, we are talking more of video games of a previous generation than of the way they are slowly beginning to spider in complexity and moral quandary. But where it does make up for all of this, is in humor and action, which bursts out in torrents. The battle sequences are striking, and the MIMIC creatures are things of  an almost drug-addled beauty.

In summation, Edge Of Tomorrow is easily one of the year’s biggest genre surprises. Far from the typical Tom Cruise action fare, this is perhaps the best of its kind, and easily Liman's best in over a decade. And it is sure to reward upon repeat viewings. As for the implications of war spin doctors being forced into fighting wars alongside those who actually volunteered for service, one could certainly do worse. But perhaps in conflicts post WWII, all we have been doing, has been retooling ourselves into further understanding the future. There are some mild jabs of this nature happening throughout, but it never comes to any major fruition. Which is to say relax, unwind, suit up, and get ready to watch Tom Cruise live out the NES Ninja Gaiden campaign of your dreams.

All the dying, none of the controller-gnawing after effects.

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