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Monday, June 2, 2014

Review: Edge of Tomorrow

It's been almost 10 years since Tom Cruise jumped up and down on Oprah Winfrey's couch, grinning like an idiot and declaring his love for Katie Holmes. Almost 10 years since Cruise declared psychiatry a pseudo-science and said to Matt Lauer, in all seriousness: "You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do." 

In the ensuing decade, the quintessential Hollywood heartthrob was quickly shuffled off of the altar of celebrated sex symbols. Cruise moved away from the ranks of bankable, leading men of the 90s who would stay on their trajectories of success - your Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Leonardo DiCaprio types - and joined the island of sexy-turned-laughable leading men, shacking up next to the likes of John Travolta, Val Kilmer, and Mel Gibson. 

But there's always room for a comeback. 

While Edge of Tomorrow has some imperfections, it marks the first time since Cruise's public meltdown(s) that I've been able to not only take him seriously, but admire his work as an actor. Gone is the couch-jumping, scientology-hawking, crazy person I walked in expecting to hate, and back is the Cruise we knew in Mission Impossible, Minority Report, and Vanilla Sky. 

Set in the not-so-distant future, the film follows a U.S. military public relations hack William Cage (Cruise), who is thrown into his first combat against a siege of aliens that have laid waste to Europe. Cage is killed within minutes of hitting the ground, but wakes up back in his body on the morning of the battle, only to see the day unfold in the same way. This is the part where I tell you this movie is like Groundhog Day meets a bunch of sci-fi movies and yadda yadda. 

The Edge of Tomorrow's success doesn't start or end with Cruise, however. The concept behind the film - lifted from Hiroshi's Sakurazaka's novel All You Need is Kill (a far better name, by the way) - is one innovative enough to immediately elevate it from similar action/sci-fi counterparts. What was also surprising and refreshing for a movie in this genre was the level of humor injected into the film's first hour. Cruise's off-screen baggage and his character's on-screen cockiness combine to make for a fairly humorous montage of Cage's stupid, pointless deaths as he slowly figures out how to navigate his new "reset" power and make it further into the alien battle. He eventually meets up with Rita Vritaski (Emily Blunt), a British soldier who became the poster child for the war's efforts when she killed more than 100 aliens in a single combat. Together they attempt to use Cage's reset abilities to win the war.

Though the spotlight is Cruise's to steal, Emily Blunt gives him a run for his money in one of her best performances to date: while Cage is hysterical and rudderless, Rita is a machine. I appreciated that instead of playing the part as a sexy, waifey female, Blunt is pure muscle and power. The roles essentially swap typical Hollywood gender portrayals, as Rita is both the muscle and brain behind humanity's last push for survival, training and pushing a physically weaker Cage to prepare for combat. 

A movie that retells the same day a hundred times risks getting into boring territory, but Doug Liman's directing, along with tight editing, keep the story feeling fresh throughout. Several times I thought back to video games; though the characters and story reset each day, as we try to get to the next level, the filmmakers give us small moments and touchstones to use as 'checkpoints' and avoid the drudgery of seeing the actors go through the same motions.

There is only one aspect of this movie that bumps it down from solid A territory, and that is the film's ending. I won't give anything away, but the ending somehow managed all at once to be both convoluted/confusing and generic/predictable, killing the unconventional ground the movie was previously treading. 95% of this film felt like a movie that should have been called "All You Need is Kill" and the remaining 5% of the running time was a much better fit for the movie's bland and generic title.   

In spite of that, it's still worth a view for the unique concept, great performances, good action, and refreshing take on gender roles, and preferably in theaters given the high level of action and visuals. Overall, I give it an A-. 

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