Movie review: Edge of Tomorrow

20140602-193317-70397656.jpgEdge of Tomorrow (originally titled All You Need Is Kill, the title of the novella it’s based on, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka) marks another dive into science fiction for Tom Cruise, this time under the direction of Mr and Mrs Smith director Doug Liman, for a film that becomes a little repetitive. A little repetitive. A little repetitive. A little repetitive. A little repetitive.

But in a good way. Mostly.

Military PR man Bill Cage (Cruise, in suitably weasel-y, not usual Tom Cruise form) is demoted and drafted into service after being charged with desertion, and swiftly dropped (literally) into combat with the alien menace that have been waging war on mankind, the Mimics. After accidentally killing one of their number, but dying in the process – as do most of his fellow soldiers in the assault – Cage wakes up again on the day before the attack that he died in. So far, so Groundhog Day, right? Well, yes. It essentially boils down to exactly that, as Cage has to learn how to take advantage of his situation to become the best Tom Cruise he can be and save the day. Luckily though, he has the help of someone who’s been through the time loops before; Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who is able to train Cage to be a more efficient Mimic killer. As she says ‘You’re not a solider, you’re a weapon.’

The reset plot device enables the ever reliable (if not revelatory here) Cruise to take his character on a believable journey from cowardly amateur to battle hardened soldier over the course of his many deaths, something the film gets a lot of mileage from. And a lot of guilty laughs too, especially in the early sections when Cage is testing out the limits of his ability, mostly by dying in hilariously grisly ways; getting run over, or flattened by a massive gunship, or killed by aliens etc. Blunt, as Vrataski, is excellent also as a veteran of war who has been hardened by her own experience through the time loops. Her tutelage of Cage, after he has to remind her who he is every day, is a particular highlight and her no nonsense approach to failure (to shoot Cage in the head and start all over again) showcases exactly what the film is; a video game with movie stars.

Take the poster quote ‘Live. Die. Repeat.’ Every time Cage loses a life, he reverts back to the last checkpoint and tries to progress further this time. That has just described every video game ever. Whether it’s memorising the patterns that the enemy uses or trying a different tactic altogether, Edge of Tomorrow follows the video game template to the letter, with mech-suits, copious amounts of guns and ammo and even an end of game boss where the stakes are raised. It’s the best video game movie that isn’t actually based on a video game.

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Unfortunately that has its downsides too. Despite being possibly the best science fiction war movie in quite some time – even if it’s so frenetically shot and edited that the action is hard to make out at times – it’s so fast paced and the characters so thinly drawn that you don’t invest in any of them bar Cruise, who impressively wears the weariness of a man who has been through countless time loops on his face. Even Emily Blunt, a fine actress, gets lost in the maelstrom of action and is unable to instil an impression of anything other than that of a military hardass despite a third act attempt to add some heart. It’s not the fault of the actors, rather the fallout from having a time travel plot; if you keep looping back on yourself your characters aren’t going to change any. The third act also devolves into the same kind of action blockbuster you’ve seen a million times; a mass of shooting, explosions and utterly afraid to do anything different. It irks more because you’d think a film like this one, dealing with what it does, would have the guts to follow through when it counts. And then it just doesn’t. At which point you’re just watching Another Tom Cruise Movie. Which is a shame.

However, you’ll forgive a generic ending as so much goodwill has been built up by the first 90 minutes being so much fun. Time travel plots – despite often not making sense if you think about them too much – are always good cinematic fodder. A scene where Cage and Vrataski sneak into a military facility is a genuine crowdpleaser as they rely more on precise timing and memory than going in guns blazing. And the battles scenes against the stunning well designed Mimics – like glowing massive rolling octospiders – are as visceral and intense as the 12A rating will allow.

Verdict:
Nothing original but presented with so much energy and invention it’s impossible not to get swept away with the fun on screen.

4 stars

Review by Jonathan Cardwell.

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