Dying On The ‘Edge’: All You Need Is Cruise

edge-of-tomorrow-tom-cruise-emily-bluntI’m not sure what the hell is going on, but in 2014, the summer blockbusters are actually good.

All of them?

No. Let me start over.

Most of the summer blockbusters this year have been pretty good, which is still fairly remarkable. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (a summer blockbuster with “winter” in the title that came out in spring) and Godzilla impressed me, and while I haven’t caught X-Men: Days Of Future Past yet, the word on the street is that it’s also pretty satisfying. After last summer’s dearth of large-scale entertainment that actually entertained, how sweet it is to see that Hollywood has learned that strong storytelling and a coherent vision actually matter even in a superhero sequel!

Except in the rare exception like The Amazing Spider-Man 2. And, no doubt, the upcoming Transformers: The Age Of Exinction — since when was the last time the fourth installment in a franchise rose in quality above the not-so-good first three?

And… okay, wait. Let me start over.

Summer blockbusters have a nasty habit of being repetitive. The same tropes, the same story beats, the same bland heroes, over and over. We’re able to predict how these movies will play out before we’ve walked into them. So imagine my surprise when a movie that’s all about repetition — featuring Tom Cruise going all Groundhog Day, living the same day again and again — turns out to be on of the freshest summer blockbusters we’ve seen in ages.

Tom Cruise plays Cage, a military spokesperson who’s never seen much action. To teach him a lesson about preaching what he hasn’t practiced, a hardass general (played by Brendan Gleeson) sends Cage to the front lines against an army of tentacled space beasties — a Normandy-on-acid battle he doesn’t have a chance in hell of surviving.

And he doesn’t.

He dies.

Tom Cruise dies, everybody!edge-of-tomorrow-tom-cruise-flare(Of course, he comes back to life immediately after.)

Edge Of Tomorrow has Cage living the same sequence of hours over and over, dying sooner or later every time. Gradually, he gets better and better at eluding the sinister E.T.s who have unleashed hell on Earth, living just a little longer every time. (Mostly.) Edge Of Tomorrow replicates the video game experience, as Cage is given infinite lives that allow him to get further and further in his “level” as his skills accumulate. Death isn’t death at all, merely an inconvenience that sets us back at the beginning again. Eventually, Cage realizes that the “Angel of Verdun,” AKA Rita Vrataski, AKA the “Full Metal Bitch,” also acquired this strange power at one point, and the two team up to, you know — save the world.

Yes, Edge Of Tomorrow is, in many ways, familiar territory for summer blockbusters, and certainly familiar territory for Tom Cruise. But director Doug Liman and writers Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth find ways to keep things fresh and surprising, especially in the film’s manic first half, injecting a surprising dose of humor (stemming mostly from seeing Cage and his buddies meet their maker in darkly comedic fashion — the more it happens, the funnier it gets). Unlike most of his “serious action hero” roles, Cruise is allowed to be inept for a large portion of this movie, endearing us to him and allowing him to charm in a way that he hasn’t since Tropic Thunder, maybe.edge-of-tomorrow-tom-cruise-emily-blunt-suitCruise and Blunt have terrific chemistry, boosted by the fact that Rita is allowed to be a bona fide action heroine, not just a love interest sidekick who gets to snarl a time or two. She’s way more badass than Cage ever gets to be (even though, yes, it is Cruise who’s ultimately tasked with saving all mankind… again). It’s one of the best female roles in a major studio blockbuster lately — possibly ever — and by the end of it, we sort of want to see a Full Metal Bitch spin-off that sees her kicking ass and taking names Cruise-free.

Which is not to say that Tom Cruise doesn’t carry this movie. Though the man has taken his fair share of knocks from the press (many of them deserved), he’s also still the most charismatic action hero around, and it’s fun to see him practically spoofing himself (and dying repeatedly in the process). It’s a shame that Edge Of Tomorrow has been such a disappointment at the box office. (With a production budget of $178 million, it feels unnecessarily expensive. There’s no reason it needed to cost that much, is there?)

It’s also unfortunate that, for all its ingenuity, we can still smell a whiff of studio interference. The film’s original title All You Need Is Kill is ten times better than the soap opera-esque Edge Of Tomorrow, and might have signaled to audiences that this is not your run-of-the-mill Tom Cruise sci-fi flick. (By which I mean, this is not the same movie as Oblivion.) And though it’s not a travesty, Edge Of Tomorrow‘s ending is totally edgeless, unlike the film preceding it. The film’s overblown third act fails to live up to the originality of the first two, and those final few scenes are — without giving too much away — an uplifting letdown.

Still, this film deserves better than it’s gotten. In a just world, it would this summer’s biggest hit, spawning sequels (Edge Of Two Days From Now) and prequels (Perimeter Of Yesterday). So catch it while you still can, before it leaves theaters — because in the unforgiving summer movie season, there are no do-overs.emily-blunt-sexy-edge-of-tomorrow-rita-floor-full-metal-bitch *

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