Sunday, July 6, 2014

"Edge of Tomorrow" Provides Fun Commentary on Gaming Experience

Edge of Tomorrow plays with the time loop concept previously seen
in the likes of Groundhog Day and Source Code.

Edge of Tomorrow is Tom Cruise’s latest foray into science fiction. In the film, he plays Major William Cage a smarmy, army publicist who pisses off the wrong general leading to his getting thrown on the front lines of a battle against an invading alien force. Ill prepared for combat, Cage dies within minutes, but somehow he winds up in a time loop, forcing him to relive the experience again and again.
 
Cage’s situation enables him the opportunity to learn his environment, improve his skills, and, potentially, take down the seemingly unbeatable aliens (called mimics) once and for all. It also allows him to grow close to Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a celebrated war hero who understands what he’s going through because she experienced the same thing earlier in the war.
 
Watching a film like this, it’s hard not to immediately draw parallels to other films, which neatly ties into thoughts from my last piece, a review that touched on how it’s impossible to judge films in a vacuum. A lot of people are labeling Edge of Tomorrow as Groundhog Day with action (an idea given extra relevance by the love interest having the name Rita), but Next and Source Code are even better comparison points given their genre trappings.
 
Director Doug Liman gets a lot of mileage out of the premise, using many of the same tricks employed by Groundhog Day and Source Code to not only avoid monotony, but also to provide a great deal of exposition, humor and depth. As happened in those films, our lead begins to fall for the girl, but, unfortunately, although he has developed feelings and gotten to know this woman over weeks, years, decades or more, she can’t know him at all.
 
There is a great scene set on a farm in which Cage tries to stall their next step, because he just wants to live in the moment with Rita and knows that, no matter what he does in this setting, she will soon take action in a way that ends her life. However, the script tells a lot more than it shows, and I would’ve preferred an additional scene or two showing Cage and Rita’s developing bond. Cruise deserves credit for doing a lot of heavy lifting to overcome that issue.
 
This is yet another science fiction movie that boils down to taking out
a central hub to neutralize an alien threat.
One major positive to having an clued-in love interest in a film like this is that Rita is aware what Cage going through, which at least helps circumvent the “if you think about it” issue that plagued the other two films. For instance, in Groundhog Day, I was always amused by the fact Phil (Bill Murray) is finally able to land Rita (Andie MacDowell) on the day he barely spends any time with her at all (since he’s so busy helping out the townsfolk). Spending an entire day romancing the woman gets him nowhere, but building himself into a local legend and sculpting one ice sculpture makes her willing to not only sleep with him, but to drop everything in her life, marry the guy and move to Punxsutawney as well.
 
That’s not enough to kill Groundhog Day – it’s actually my all-time favorite movie, and it’s not like we haven’t gotten a chance to see that relationship develop – but it is one of the best examples I can think of when a movie goes “forget the logic – all that matters is that it works for the audience” (another example: the whole “T-Rex pushes the car over the cliff that wasn’t there” thing in Jurassic Park). At least in Edge of Tomorrow, Rita knows they must have formed a bond and is able to judge Cage and react to him based on that knowledge.
 
Beyond the inclusion of a strong, in-the-know female, Edge of Tomorrow also distinguishes itself as a clever commentary on the video gaming experience. Cage is dropped into a very Halo-esque scenario each day, and when he dies he respawns back where he started, ready to learn from his mistakes and advance. The film has a great deal of fun with Cage’s exasperation related to his failures. Even though Liman edits the film so that we aren’t seeing the same things over and over again, there’s an underlying understanding that Cage is going through the motions each day to get the his last point of death. Cruise humorously translates the frustration every gamer has felt as the film wears on and he fails to make progress – one training scene even has him try to convince Blunt he’s good to continue despite having broken his leg just so he doesn’t have to go through the motions of getting to this point again.
 
The film is pretty great from start to finish, but it really crackles in the middle third. I was somewhat annoyed it devolves into the typical mission concerned with blowing up a central hub, which, if you recall, also occurred in Cruise’s last sci-fi vehicle Oblivion (Why do so many damn movies resort to this plot point? The only trope more popular in the action genre seems to be the powerful object that falls into the wrong hands). It’s a little more forgivable here given that this movie is intentionally aping and commenting on what it’s like to play a video game, and, well, that’s a pretty common endpoint in alien invasion first-person shooters.
 
The film concludes with a questionable denouement that arbitrarily betrays the established logic of the film. It’s sort of cribbed right from Next, but not as annoying as it was there, because it feels more earned (I’m trying not to ruin either movie here, but if you’ve seen both, you’ll get what I mean). Regardless, as with Groundhog Day, the ending isn’t enough to hurt my view of the film. Edge of Tomorrow is an enjoyable, smart and well-drawn actioner – the kind it would behoove Hollywood to make a lot more of. A-