Tuesday 27 May 2014

Edge of Tomorrow review

Edge of Tomorrow (12A/PG-13, 113 mins)
Director: Doug Liman
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

An early summer movie season that’s been fairly strong so far continues to tick along nicely with Edge of Tomorrow, a smart and fun sci-fi thriller which demonstrates that Tom Cruise is still one of the best in the business.

Even though this is a summer blockbuster that may have a premise like an episode of Star Trek, and even though it nods to most of the sci-fi action of the last 30 years, it still comes across as fairly original. It’s based on a novel called All You Need Is Kill and for all that it seems to be in the vein of Starship Troopers, the clear and unexpected touchstone is Groundhog Day.

News footage opens the film to fill us in on the backstory, which at first comes across as the kind of thing we’ve seen umpteen times before: an alien invasion has left earth on the brink of destruction and our forces are gearing up for one last make or break battle.

During this prologue we’ve been quietly introduced to Major William Cage (Cruise). In a nice twist, he’s not a hero but a media relations guy, prized more for his recruitment skills than his soldiering. But his superior (Brendan Gleeson) has plans to send him into the fray anyway during a low key start where he has to come to terms with being sent to the front line with no training and no clue.

The real hero is Rita (Emily Blunt), known as the Angel of Verdun since a successful mission against the aliens. Most of Europe has been destroyed and taken over, so the plan is for a Normandy landings-style incursion into France to take the fight to the enemy. These so-called Mimics are brilliantly designed many-tentacled beasties that recall the sentinels in The Matrix, scary, fast-moving and very hard to kill.

Saving Private Ryan is evoked as they drop onto the beaches of France to take on the aliens, only for everyone, including Cage and Rita, to be very quickly slaughtered. But here’s where the unique selling point of Edge of Tomorrow comes into play, as Cage wakes up to find himself at the start of the previous day. That day then plays out exactly as it did before, only he knows everything that’s going to happen because he’s already lived through it even if no one else has.

Day after day he sets out on the mission and day after he dies, unable to make much progress or save Rita. But finally something clicks on one of the days, and Rita tells Cage to come and find her when he, as it were, gets back to yesterday. She trains him how to better fight the Mimics, while he tells her what will happen tomorrow so they can survive for as long as possible.

That may sound like a complicated bit of shenanigans, but one of the key strengths here is that it’s all very clear to follow. Like a video game, Cage gets a bit further each time, learning from his mistakes and dying and restarting dozens, possibly hundreds of times until he gets it right.

It’s the very definition of repetitive action, with the beach landing and fight playing out over and over, but it’s far from a problem because we always get something a bit different. And it changes up as it progresses, taking us beyond the beach to the places their mission needs to go if it’s ever to succeed. There’s also room for some cheeky laughs in amongst all the dying, born out of Cage knowing the future and often at the expense of Bill Paxton’s hardnosed sergeant.

Blunt is convincing as a badass but no one sells this sort of thing like Cruise, who combines undimmed star power with the utmost sincerity so that we’re with him all the way no matter how preposterous the setup may be. His transformation into an action star may have come at the expense of more interesting dramatic roles but, even at the age of 51, all you need is Cruise.

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