Thursday, February 12, 2015

Film Friday: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Hollywood has been on a science fiction bender of late. Unfortunately, the films it’s made have been super-mediocre despite the high production values and interesting concepts they embrace. Indeed, Oblivion, After Earth, Elysium and Gravity all underwhelmed and disappointed. Even Prometheus didn’t live up to expectations. So imagine my surprise to find that Edge of Tomorrow was truly an excellent film!

Plot

Based on the Japanese novel “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow takes place in a world in which an alien race has landed in the heart of Europe and driven the humans back all the way to Russia in the East and Britain in the West. Until recently, the humans had been unable to put up even token resistance against these creatures, which look like car-sized octopuses made of flailing razor sharp arms. But things are about to change for the humans with the invention of battle suits. These suits give humans a chance to win hand to hand combat, which is how the humans won their first battle at Dunkirk. Now the military (the United Defense Force) plans an invasion of France.
As the story opens, the General in charge calls Tom Cruise into his office. Cruise is a Major in public relations, and he’s an unlikable coward. The General orders Cruise to accompany the invasion and take pictures so he can sell the invasion to the public... and defuse any negative publicity in the event the humans lose. Cruise panics upon hearing this and tries to escape this duty. When the General leaves him no choice, Cruise threatens the General and ends up under arrest.

When Cruise wakes up, he finds himself inserted into a combat unit. The other soldiers are told that he’s a private and a deserter who tried to impersonate an officer. He is given no choice but to join the invasion as an ordinary soldier.
When Cruise lands on the beach, he realizes that the invasion is chaos and the humans are getting slaughtered. He has no idea what to do. Before he can make up his mind, however, he is killed... yes, killed. Only, Cruise doesn’t die. To the contrary, he wakes up to discover that he has moved backwards in time to the point where he first woke up under arrest. And every time he gets killed after that, he comes back to that same point to relive the same day. If he wants to live, he’ll need to figure out how to win the war.

Why This Film Worked

I wasn’t expecting much from this film. Tom Cruise has not exactly been hitting them out of the park lately, and I’m dubious about Hollywood’s ability to do science fiction well. Moreover, the concept behind this film is one that I’ve seen done a million times by every science fiction series ever, so this seemed like it would be highly derivative. But, much to my surprise, I really enjoyed this film. In fact, I would say this is an excellent film.

What made me like this film was that it did everything right for a change. First, the film had very, very high production values. The effects are great and they aren’t overused... this is not a fighting robots film. To the contrary, this is a smart film and it handles the concept very well. The "reliving the day" story concept typically involves the main character being put into a position where they must relive the exact same events over and over, learning little bits each pass through until they are able to overcome all the hurdles they face to doing whatever it takes to stop them from repeating the day. But many directors get bored of the concept and all but abandon it a few minutes in, with the exception of the inevitable montage of the main character repeating some specific moment over and over. Even worse, most directors abandon the rational world and allow their character to get away with impossible and unbelievable things just to make the story work.
This film doesn’t do that. This film maintains the concept throughout and it actually presents an interesting twist on the character’s desire to relive the day. Usually, the main character struggles to end the day. That is their goal and the story is focused on them figuring out how to do that. In this case, Cruise actually has to fight to make sure the day does not end before he can solve the mystery they face or else he will die on the beach. This adds interesting drama later in the film. Moreover, the director becomes more sophisticated in his use of this element as the story moves forward. Indeed, after a few standard shots, the director begins to stretch his creativity and the shots of Cruise reliving the days become more unexpected and more interesting. Then, at the ending, we are shown a final battle which must be waged with the knowledge that this time, there will be no reset.
At the same time, you never feel like Cruise does anything impossible – he does, but it never feels that way. What’s more, you feel throughout that Cruise earns every advance he gets. Highlighting this is the fact that we often see Cruise fail, and doing so in expected ways. This gives the film a strong “what will he do now?” feel. And strengthening this is the fact the challenge Cruise faces keeps getting bigger as the film proceeds. So as he conquers each hurdle, his victory is often the discovery of an even larger hurdle. This raising of the stakes helps elevate the intensity of the film throughout.

All of this makes for a very solid, smart, traditional science fiction tale done right. That makes this a rare film.
But there is one more aspect of this film which helped make it an enjoyable film: excellent acting and excellently written dialog. Science fiction dialog tends to be either clunky or filler. Indeed, much of it is just meant to pass the time between the various technical revelations related to the concept. This film was different. Cruise’s character has a bit of a silver tongue and he spends the film trying to talk various characters into believing him. Blunt’s character maintains a mysterious background that feels quite rich and she teases us with only hints about it. Finally, there is Bill Paxton, who plays Master Sergeant Farell, who has been assigned to guard Cruise and make sure he ends up on the beach. Paxton’s portrayal reminds me of R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket mixed with a pirate, and every moment he’s on screen is entertaining. All told, the characters are richly drawn and the dialog is strong and pulls you into the film. I was not surprised to find writer Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspect, Valkyrie) as the writer.
All told, I came into this film without much in the way of positive expectations. What I found was a very entertaining film that held my attention with excellent characters, strong dialog, excellent effects that weren’t overused, and mastery of a strong, smart science fiction concept. This film isn't 2001 or Star Wars, but it is the best science fiction film to come along in a very long time.

Thoughts.

18 comments:

Anthony said...

My two kids (12 and 14) and I really enjoyed this film. This was the first "smart" sci fi film they saw and they were engrossed.

I thought the ending wasn't as well executed as the middle or beginning, but that is just being picky. As sci fi films go, I was happy to see it and recommended it to all my friends.

shawn said...

When I saw the previews for this, I knew I had to be there. It didn't disappoint. Saw it in a mostly empty theater which was disappointing 'tho. Instead of more movies like this, we will get "Transformers 5".

Anonymous said...

Good review of a good movie.

I hadn't really liked many Tom Cruise movies for well over a decade. He had become a super star and I was no longer watching a great actor play a character, the movies had simply become vehicles for Tom Cruise super star.

So I didn't really want to see this movie, especially after seeing the disappointing Oblivion. I never expected to actually like the movie, I didn't see this at the theaters unfortunately, but saw it at a mates house, it would have been even better on the big screen.

Great story, acting, directing, fx etc all put together into a great package which I can see myself watching again. I'm not sure if Tom Cruise took his head out of his but and put the movie above himself or if the director didn't let his movie get overshadowed by Tom Cruise super star. I don't care either way, but it was good and I can hopefully look forward to more great Tom Cruise movies, he was in some great movies in the first half of his career and is a great actor.

Scott.

Robert L. Hedd said...

Andrew, good writ-up. I too enjoyed this film - almost guiltily, as we're not supposed to enjoy Tom Cruise movies, especially Tom Cruise sci-fi movies these days - and viewed it as a "future" Groundhog Day with Cruise in the Bill Murray role. A-hole character reliving the same events over and over again until he becomes lovable/admired/respected.
But again, I question why men are forced to suspend disbelief and accept that a woman is the baddest character in the film and can kick any man's butt (Scarlett Johansen 'Black Widow'). G-Day at least presented more plausible characters. Would it have hurt to have a super-lethal SF type soldier portrayed as the world's best warrior? Again, forgive me for my cynicism when it comes to these movies, but my script can't accept that.
As for Tom Cruise mailing it in in his films, I disagree. I think he plays 'Tom Cruise' plays xx character in the film. Except for "Tropic of Thunder." I didn't even recognize him in the film, and he definitely didn't play 'Tom Cruise.' I liked him also in 'Jack Reacher,' even though he was nothing like the character in the books by Lee Childs.
Also, Paxton is another underappreciated thespian.

Bob

ScottDS said...

This film isn't 2001 or Star Wars...

Hey, look! A Kubrick reference! He must somehow be relevant. ;-)

I'm glad to see you liked this movie. It hadn't been on my radar, then my friends and I went to see it at the dollar theater and we were quite entertained. I really had no idea where it was going to go. Say what you want about Tom Cruise but he gives every movie 110%. And Bill Paxton is always fun to watch.

The movie just barely squeaked by with $100 million in the U.S. and will no doubt make its money back in the long run. HOWEVER, it's fairly obvious that the studios no longer have any effing clue how to market movies not based on popular name brands.

The generic title didn't help things, either. (And now WB is downplaying the title on the film's home video releases.) And yeah, some people probably saw the trailers and just assumed it was a Transformers knockoff or something. (See: Pacific Rim.)

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, Agreed about the ending. It wasn't as good as the rest, but it was a satisfying conclusion.

I'm glad you and your kids enjoyed the film. I didn't have high hopes for this one and I was very pleasantly surprised.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I feel your pain. This is what science fiction should be -- a smart concept, done cleverly, with solid characters and great (but not overused) effects. Instead, we get things like the Transformers movies, which are just a light show passing as a movie. Sad.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I feel the same about Cruise. At one point, he was a really solid actor who was capable of greatness. But during the last decade, he's been on autopilot doing films that were largely just vehicles for his fame.

I had hoped that Oblivion would be different, but it was just too flat. This one, however, finally is a really strong film and Cruise does a really good job with his character.

As I say, I really enjoyed this one. I thought the effects were great... and they weren't overused!! I thought the plot was excellent, the concept was very well handled, the characters were strong (especially Paxton), and the writing was engaging. All around, this was a really pleasant surprise and I definitely intend to watch it again.

AndrewPrice said...

Bob, Paxton is definitely an underrated actor.

On Cruise, I think he starts playing Tom Cruise, but then it quickly changes as he presented himself as an a-hole coward. After that, he is rarely in control, which isn't typical for him.

On Blunt, I had no problem with her being a woman because (1) they said that anyone can fight in the combat suits, so this isn't like it's a woman beating anyone up -- it's the suit, and (2) her extraordinary abilities are the result of being killed at Verdun and then getting the ability to relive the day. It's the same way that incompetent Cruise becomes a super soldier.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, The studios definitely do not know how to market films like this. When I first saw the ads, it looked just like everything else. So I was really happy to see something much better than expected.

I agree that Cruise gives it his all always, but the problem is that too often he's just doing the same thing over and over.

Tennessee Jed said...

well I think I'll probably try and see this one now after reading your review. For one thing, while Cruise has some notable misses, I rather think I have enjoyed his films more than not, even if he is one strange individual in real life. I probably have stayed away from a lot of films in this genre since most do disappoint. Maybe it was fear that those that were so good (Blade Runner, 2001, etc.) would make me assume any given film would be disappointing.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I too like Cruise on film and do try to see his films, though he's disappointed quite a bit lately. I know what you mean about assuming modern sci-fi films will disappoint... as most do. But this one is good. I think you will enjoy it quite a bit.

Kit said...

When I first heard about it I thought it would be crap. The trailer did not help. But your review now makes me kind of interested. Kind of.

whitsbrain said...

I wasn’t expecting much from this film. Tom Cruise has not exactly been hitting them out of the park lately"

This is where you are wrong. "Jack Reacher" was a really solid action film, "Oblivion" was visually stunning Sci-Fi (the ending was not so good) and "Edge of Tomorrow" was my favorite film of 2014. Cruise in my opinion is probably the only major star putting out original material these days.

Voz said...

I'll admit that I'm a big Tom Cruise fan...but only of his action/thrillers since the first Mission Impossible...when this came out I asked a friend of mine if he wanted to go see it with me and he said that he didn't really like Cruise movies...but eventually he decided to go...after the movie was over and we were walking out I asked him what he thought since I knew Cruise wasn't his favorite. His response..."That was the best movie of the year so far that I've seen." I agreed. I loved Jack Reacher as well...especially after I knew that Lee Child gave him the go ahead to play the character even though the character in the book looks nothing like Reacher...Cruise played the character like the books just without the physique. and Oblivion, in my opinion, was also great...with the score by M83 being fantastic. I think one of the things that impresses me about Cruise is that even pushing 50...if he's not already 50 or over, is that he is so committed to the role and the stunts and it shows...his commentaries are fun to listen to as well...he doesn't just go on about stuff done on set, but about the production aspect, the acting, effects, reasons for why something was done a certain way...very informative.

AndrewPrice said...

Voz, Cruise is definitely a likable guy and I do enjoy seeing him on film, though I haven't cared much for his recent work.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Check it out,it's a good film.

AndrewPrice said...

Whitsbrain, I personally haven't cared for his work lately, but reasonable minds can differ.

Post a Comment