Thursday, June 5, 2014

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise's last action extravaganza, 2013's Oblivion, drew a mixed bag of reactions, drawing praise for its mood and visuals while being hit with demerits for the way its plot borrowed gingerly from a host of other, more established, sci-fi franchises.

So when the "Live. Die. Repeat." marketing machine began revving up for Cruise's latest, Edge of Tomorrow, you could almost hear the sound of the nation's critics sharpening their pencils and jotting down every "Groundhog Day" pun they could think of.

Yes, we've seen these kind of time-loop shenanigans before and yes, combat exoskeletons are a staple of science fiction (see Aliens, Elysium, The Matrix, Avatar). But Edge of Tomorrow is more than just another cinematic Frankenstein's Monster.

By pairing the always-game Cruise with the light-handed practical effects mastery of director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) EoT succeeds as an eye-popping summer smash that bounces with an unburdened and unimposing sense of fun.

Cruise stars as Private Cage, a demoted military officer who is flung to the front lines of a major military offensive after a display of cowardice. An alien race has crashed on earth, wiping out most of Europe, but the allied human resistance are betting big that a major surge of technology-enhanced soldiers can obliterate their enemy for good.

The attack goes poorly, with the alien "Mimics" apparently aware of the humans' plans, resulting in a frantic and chaotic scene of death and destruction in which Cage is quickly dispatched by a squirming extra-terrestrial. Only instead of going gently into that good night, Cage awakens back at the military base, in hand-cuffs, seemingly repeating the eve of the invasion.

Cage's immortality is quickly explained as he finds a partner in the form of Emily Blunt's Rita, who experienced a similar phenomenon before rising the ranks as the war's most decorated soldier. Rita helps Cage hone his skills as a warrior-seer while also working with him to identify the enemy's weakness that will end the war once and for all.

The repetitions are handled deftly, with Liman knowing precisely when and how long to play a repeat for laughs and when to slow things down to allow forward momentum in the plot. The story also cleverly hides the extent of Cage's experience, leaving the viewer unsure at times whether he is living a moment for the first time or painting by numbers.

Most impressive is Liman's restraint with computer effects, opting whenever possible to outfit his stars in what must be horrendously bulky contraptions to run around and squabble in the mud. Obviously with a human-alien war there's only so much the real world allows, but the moments of digital trickery are earned and more often used as a supplement to actual steel, sweat and flesh.

Where EoT fails, unfortunately, is its ending, which trades in on the goodwill built up by 90 minutes of creative storytelling to leave a glaring plot hole in the name of a group hug and a pretty pink bow. It's not necessarily a bad, or even unexpected, finale, but a more daring choice would have elevated the film even further above the mold.

Grade: B

*Edge of Tomorrow opens nationwide on Friday, June 6

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