Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Edge Of Tomorrow

Edge Of Tomorrow is Tom Cruise's latest opus and was directed by Doug Liman (Go, The Bourne Identity) and written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth. I've never heard of those last two, but I really like saying "Jez Butterworth." Based on the graphic novel All You Need Is Kill.

Cruise's previous scifi epic Oblivion was a stiched-together, Frankenstein-ian pastiche of several much better films. Edge Of Tomorrow is just as derivative, recalling films like Groundhog Day, Source Code, Deja Vu, ALIENS and Starship Troopers. Despite this, Edge Of Tomorrow's clever script and direction help it succeed where Oblivion failed. 

It's a miracle the film turned out as well as it did. Six months before filming started, director Doug Liman scrapped two thirds of the script and hired the Butterworths to rewrite it. They were replaced by writer Christopher McQuarrie just eight weeks before filming. The movie didn't even have a satisfactory ending when filming began (which is always a risky move).

Brad Pitt was originally going to star in the film, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. Actress Berenice Bejo was originally cast in the role of Rita, before Emily Blunt took over. 

A while back I wrote about the film's horrible, horrible title and feared it would hurt the box office (just like the John Carter debacle a couple of years ago). Fortunately for Warner Bros., the bland, nondescript title doesn't seem to have affected the film much, as it looks looks to be on track to pass the $300 million mark.

Speaking of which-- apparently the filmmakers wanted to call it All You Need Is Kill after the graphic novel, but Warner Bros. president Sue Kroll changed it because she was concerned with "negative chatter about the word 'kill' in the title." Jesus wept. I don't want to live on this planet anymore.


The Plot:
It's the near future, and alien invaders known as Mimics have taken over Europe. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is ordered to the front lines, despite his alarming lack of combat training. He's thrown into battle with little or no preparation. Cage gets off a lucky shot and kills an alpha Mimic, showering him with the alien's blood, before he himself is killed. 

Suddenly Cage wakes up alive and well the previous morning. It seems the alien's blood has magic time traveling properties, and he's now caught in a loop, reliving the same day over and over. Each time he dies (and he dies a lot) he starts over at the beginning of the loop, remembering everything from each cycle. Eventually he uses this to his advantage, training with famous war veteran Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) to become a proper soldier and defeat the Mimics by finding a way to destroy their central brain (oy, these aliens and their central brains).

• This is probably the most video game-like movie ever made. Every time Cage is killed he "respawns" back at the beginning and learns how to advance a little farther each time through the loop, just like in a video game. Too bad for him there were no save points though.

• In a very surprising move, Cruise plays a bonafide coward in the film. One who even resorts to blackmailing a superior officer to stay out of the front lines.

This is a huge departure for Cruise. Apparently he's now at the point in his career where he's willing to risk his usual action hero image. Remember, this is the same Tom Cruise who once campaigned to play Edward Scissorhands, but only if he didn't have scars marring his perfect chiseled looks. He's definitely maturing as an actor.

Well, mostly maturing. Cage starts out the battle wearing a helmet, but after a couple minutes he rips it off and tosses it away. When a fellow soldier asks him where his helmet is, he replies with a lame, "It was a distraction (!)." 

Hmm. Now I wonder why the star of a multimillion dollar film wouldn't want to wear a helmet. Surely it couldn't have anything to do with it obscuring his leading man features, could it?

• Kudos to director Doug Liman for somehow figuring out how to make a film that repeats the same scenes over and over, yet feels fresh each time. Many times we see Cage in a situation and think it's his first time, but then we find out it's the fiftieth. This keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, and the audience on their toes.

• I wonder how many times Cage lived through the same day? A hundred? A thousand? More? Just think how tedious that would be after a while. He needs to get to the end of the loop, but has to go through the motions of the same day again and again and again and... 

Living the same day over forever would be my personal version of hell.

• We're told the aliens are called "Mimics" because of their ability to copy and anticipate human actions. Hmm. So apparently humans like to burrow underground, spin like tops and bounce from object to object like a ricocheting bullet, because that's exactly how the Mimics move. Surely there was a better, less misleading name they could have come up with?

• Speaking of the Mimics, I am not a fan of their design. Everything else in the film-- the battle suits, the troop ships, etc.-- looks top notch and plausible, but they really dropped the ball with the aliens. They look vaguely like glue-covered squids that rolled around in a pile of metal shavings-- I think. Throughout the film they twirl around so fast it's impossible to get a good look at them. 

This is something that's been going on in scifi films for quite a while now. Just because you can make your aliens and ships zip around the screen at Mach 5 doesn't mean you should. Slow the hell down and let the audience actually look at your designs!

An example of why this super speed thing is a bad idea: the first time through the loop Cage kills an Alpha alien, which is supposed to be a really big deal. Unfortunately we don't recognize it as an Alpha because it's the first good look we get an ANY alien. You've got to show us the grunts before we can be impressed with the officer.

• Many have criticized the lack of motivation for the aliens' attack. Eh, that didn't bother me. If Earth was ever invaded by a truly alien species like we see here, we probably never would find out their reasons for doing so. Their minds and methods would no doubt be unknowable to humanity.

It's not like they're going to Tweet their intentions to us. "Invading third planet from yellow star. Inhabitants easy to defeat, LOL."

• I've missed Bill Paxton. Can he be in every movie from now on please?

• The battle suits in the film are fictional of course, but are supposedly based on designs being developed by DARPA (our government's secret mad scientist division). Each suit weighed 85 pounds, which explains the actors' lumbering gait when running in them.

• Cage is thrown into J Squad, which seems to be the platoon in which the Army dumps all the misfits and rejects. They're a colorful group, but unfortunately they're all so shallowly written that I wouldn't be surprised if the script refers to them as Fat Guy, Soccer Hooligan, Hillbilly Girl, Crazy Silent Guy and so on.

• On Cage's first time through the time loop, he receives so little training that he doesn't even know how to deactivate the safety on his weapons. He literally begs his J Squad pals to tell him how to turn it off, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. 

The implication here is that the lovable scamps of J Squad are deliberately trying to get him killed. Sure, he's a coward and a deserter, but fragging him seems a bit harsh to me. You can't redeem yourself if you're dead. Can't they just tie his uniform in knots or short sheet his bed?

To make it even worse, later on the film wants us to weep for these psychopathic members of J Squad as they sacrifice themselves for humanity. Nice try, movie.

• When Cage meets up with Rita, she uses the time loops to train him how to be a proper soldier. The training area is filled with simulated Mimics that careen around the room at high speed, complete with sharp, whirling blades. Just like the X-Men's Danger Room.

At one point a robotic Mimic slams into Cage with so much force that it actually breaks his spine, paralyzing him. Jesus Christ! That seems a bit extreme. I get that the simulation needs to be as real as possible to be effective, but losing your head during a training exercise seems counterproductive to me.

On the other hand, deadly simulations aren't totally without precedent, as our Army often uses live rounds during obstacle course training. 

• Whenever Cage is grievously injured during his training, Rita resets the loop by killing him! It's shocking to see the heroine just up and shoot the hero in the head, but given the circumstances it makes sense. And after a while it's actually funny. At one point Cage is injured and resigns himself to the fact that Rita's going to kill him, sighing, "OK, do it."

• In the third act Cage talks his pals in J Squad-- who've known him for less than a day, mind you-- into accompanying him on a suicide mission to kill the giant alien brain (called the Omega) controlling the Mimics, which is located in the Louvre. 

A couple things here. One, I don't care how many times Cage gives them his "I know this is going to sound crazy, but the longer I talk the more rational it's going to sound" speech, there's no way in hell that J Squad would gleefully follow him into certain death.

But the script demands they indeed follow him, and so they do. Once they reach the Louvre they're all mowed down in rapid succession. As I mentioned earlier we're supposed to feel bad for them, but they're so shallowly written and have so little screen time (in a film that repeats the same scenes over and over yet!) that their deaths have little or no impact on the audience.

• Once again we see an alien invasion in which one central brain controls the entire army. When are aliens going to learn that this is a terrible, terrible idea? Once the giant Omega brain is taken out, the hordes and hordes of Mimic soldiers drop lifeless to the ground like rag dolls.

I've seen this over and over in many scifi films, and it's a sure sign of lazy writing.

• Thank god this film finally premiered. I've been seeing the same damned trailer for it every single weekend for the past six months. At least. I was starting to feel like Cruise's character, reliving the same day over and over and over and...

Edge Of Tomorrow is a derivative, but well written and enjoyable scifi take on the "endless loop" trope. I still hate that title though. I give it a B+.

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