Saturday, June 21, 2014

“Edge Of Tomorrow” Makes One Day Count

Will Tom Cruise ever die? Or get old, for that matter?

“Edge Of Tomorrow” makes you doubt that either will ever happen. This time around, he plays Major William Cage. He may wear a uniform, but he's a soldier in name only. In the near future he inhabits, humanity is under attack by aliens called Mimics. But that's actually not the only bad news, since we happen to be losing, and thus are teetering on the verge of complete and utter extinction. None of this is even remotely new territory, but it's the way this story is told that makes “Edge Of Tomorrow” such an enjoyable ride.

As Major William Cage, Cruise is perfectly willing to serve as a mouthpiece of whatever agenda is handed to him, but he's also a selfish coward who has taken great pains to avoid combat, or really go anywhere near it. However, he's thrown into it (literally) after he gets on the bad side of General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) and is put in the tip of the spear of a would-be modern(ish) D-Day to take back Europe form the Mimics. He figures he's as good as dead. He's right.

But it turns out, death really isn't the end, or at least not for him, because Cage wakes up 24 hours before his death, and somewhat wiser for the experience too. Thanks to his complete-death experience, he knows that the Mimics are aware of our plans, and that all of humanity's forces will be wiped out. But apparently, he's not as alone as he thinks, because he discovers that war hero Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt, clearly relishing playing a badass.) used to be able to do the same thing. But since she's lost the ability, it's now up to Cruise to insure that the Mimics fail and their power source that allows them to manipulate time is destroyed, thus saving the human race. No pressure.

Cruise soon makes the most of his Groundhog Day, and the man he becomes is almost unrecognizable from the man we were introduced to. In the process, we're reminded of why Cruise keeps getting work. (Well, when the work is right for him.) Over time, his eyes begin to show the wear and tear of man who's been immersed in battle and death. Again and again, he's forced to watch his fellow soldiers die, particularly Rita, whose story ends in several different ways. She too has psychological scars of her own, such as witnessing the death of her (now permanently deceased) lover about 300 times.

But surprisingly, there are some lighter moments that are done just as well as the special effects, which includes the evil alien Mimics, who here come off as nigh-unstoppable, lightning fast, tentacled monsters. Cruise is actually at his best when he's playing inept, especially during the training montage. It feels much less obligatory than usual since it's chock full of epic fails, the reset button is a bullet to the head, not to mention we get to see how a lot of these action stunts would play out on the first take.

Cruise also has the reliably charming chemistry with the tough as nails Blunt, who actually feels like a character rather than a writer trying to overcome a dearth of strong (or interesting, or compelling, or just plain good for that matter) female action roles. And the fact that she is mainly the one leading and training him only makes her more watchable. Even the supporting characters, featuring the likes of Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson, mange to make an impression with very little screen time.

That said, there are a few negatives. Why exactly are the Mimics invading? It's a good thing here that they aren't humanized, but it would've been interesting to get a glimpse of their motives. Then there's the fact that there always seems to be a single power source whose destruction will conveniently incapacitate the alien forces.

But those are merely the proverbial drops in a bucket full of riches. And all these blessings flow from the meticulously plotted script, the source from which all good movies flow. Like “Source Code,” it entertains the mind by ingeniously making use of its time bending premise, then captures our hearts by giving us characters worth caring about. Enjoy it while it lasts, because if the trailers I saw before “Edge Of Tomorrow” were any indication, we shouldn't expect the same from this summer's other action offerings.

Grade: A-

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