Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

★★★★

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Edge of Tomorrow PosterDirector: Doug Liman

Release Date: May 30th, 2014 (UK); June 6th, 2014 (US)

Genre: Action; Science-fiction

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt

The key to any film baring a looped narrative is the provision of compelling characters. Or, at the very least, engaging performances. Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and Jake Gyllenhaal in Source Code, for instance. Two aptly mentioned films each of which share an obvious connection with Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman’s newest creation that sees the former’s witty humour and the latter’s pulsating mystery combine with a Vantage Point-esque tactical retreading to devise a two hour thrill ride. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt energetically shepherd proceedings through any potentially damaging plot miscues, coming out the other side battle-worn but not out-battled. The jigsaw doesn’t quite fit together with uniform perfection but assembling it is pretty damn fun. In fact, this might be Tom Cruise’s best outing in a decade.

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) awakens in familiar surroundings: an army barracks at Heathrow Airport, the word “maggot” ringing in his ear. It’s the near future and Earth is under attack. Aliens known as ‘Mimics’ — experts in adapting to combat human strategy — lead the invasion, and Cage’s interaction with one of the beasts has sent him spiralling into a time loop. A glorified military advertiser, the Major must train both body and mind with the aid of war machine Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) in order to quell the fighting and save humankind.

Edge of Tomorrow presents an often pondered scenario, then repeats until fluency reigns. If you were to throw a pebble into a river, would the water change course forever or eventually restore its old pathway? In this case, we swap pebble for soldier and water for war. There’s no grand idea to ponder, at least not a new one, but sometimes sticking with a winning formula ushers forth success and Liman’s film proves that. What the director does infuse, if not originality, is vitality; a freshness that cleanses with bounce and intrigue upon repetition. We watch as Cage lives out the same day countless times over, yet there’s never a sense that what we’re seeing is merely bland duplication. Quite the opposite actually. For every familiar bellow from Master Sergeant Farrell there’s a modicum of change. A card game hidden under bedsheets, for instance. Smartly, sameness becomes a weapon for both Cage and the viewer: he, attempting to win a war, and us, trying to put the puzzle pieces together. Every time he dies, we start over. Undeniably, there’s a method to the litany. (“An enemy that knows the future can’t lose.”)

The way the narrative plays out is akin to that of a video game. There’s a peculiar humour that comes with the frustration of being unable to bypass a certain stage, a mental headache that, once you finally advance to the next level, beckons in excitement. What’ll happen next? This is the sort of mind-jogging that Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay dazzles with, and it’s sort of infectious. “What do we do now?” asks Rita. “I don’t know, we never got this far,” replies Cage with sparkling glee, the audience almost expecting him to follow up with a knowing wink in the camera’s direction.

The pair driving proceedings are having as good a time as any, which helps. Both Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt get stuck in, be it whilst careering through a mass of monstrous treachery or delivering gags with precise timing and just as much effort. The camera stalks Cruise throughout the entire film yet we never tire of seeing his face — admittedly, it is rather amusing watching the Hollywood star’s reactions as he perishes in a variety of ways. Blunt chalks in another talent-affirming performance as the ironclad Full Metal Bitch, getting the better of her co-star more often than not. It’s also worth noting Bill Paxton’s hammed up turn as the aforementioned Farrell, his numerous communications with Cruise increasing in hilarity as time progresses.

Quite surprisingly, Edge of Tomorrow detours down comedy alley a whole lot, hitting more than its fair share of home-runs. There are a number of intense battle scenes that are harsher in meaning than actual visual depiction, but these are balanced out by smatterings of light relief. James Herbert and Laura Jenning’s rapid editorial input comes in handy here, ensuring that there are never any lulls: while we’ve only just let out a guffaw at Cage’s prophetic qualities, the film is on to the next optical spectacle or witty bantering. Cruise and Blunt conjure up a dynamic that not only feels authentic, but that also sparks with comic prowess. The whole thing is quite ridiculous in a way and the film acknowledges so. Since it doesn’t take itself too seriously, we can relax and let the occasional disbelief slide. Playfulness supersedes sternness, and it’s for the best.

That’s not to say Edge of Tomorrow is bulletproof, because it ain’t. The plot teeters along a knife edge at times, hampered by its mass and volume. There’s a lot to take in and not all of it immediately makes sense, such as how easy it is to become encased within a time loop. (Not to mention Rita’s relationship with the concept — she could re-enter the groundhog procedure at any point, surely.) State of the art combat suits are developed to give humans a greater fighting chance against the aliens, yet these technologically superior battle weapons are juiced by batteries. There must not be any electric motor charging sockets around future London. Finger out, Boris.

Doug Liman’s track record since The Bourne Identity is sketchy at best, but this offering is a sure-fire career reviver. His direction is more or less spot on, striving for humour rather than overbearing solemnity. The film’s leading duo deliver on numerous fronts, injecting a fresh lease of life when necessary. The periphery can be a tad rough at times but Edge of Tomorrow will most certainly claim a lofty spot atop a vast amount of summer success lists, at least for the foreseeable future.

Edge of Tomorrow - Cruise and Blunt

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Warner Bros.

About Time (2013)

★★★★

Director: Richard Curtis

Release Date: September 4th, 2013 (UK); November 8th, 2013 (US)

Genre: Comedy; Drama; Science-fiction

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy

It does not take long for Richard Curtis’ newest comedy About Time to have viewers grinning from ear-to-ear as any narrative inconsistencies take a back seat, allowing the film’s engaging characters to dominate the screen in a funny, genuine and well-meaning cinematic offering.

The writer and occasional director of romantic comedies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually is no stranger to the genre, but here Curtis adds an extra dose of science-fiction to charge up proceedings. Domhnall Gleeson is Tim, an unpolished 21-year- old whose life takes an unexpected turn — literally — when his father tells him he can travel back in time. Gleeson’s relatively recent rise to prominence means his involvement here is fresh and feels organic, enabling the Irishman’s charm to resonate through both his awkwardness and authenticity.

Rachel McAdams endears as Gleeson’s other half Mary, and the two strike up an infectious dynamic immediately. It says a lot for both that their first scene together — which they spend shrouded in complete darkness — generates an instant connection. Bill Nighy is often the vessel through which emotion is emitted and the relationship he shares with his son Tim is utterly believable; a relationship that the film quite rightly depends on.

About Time is not without problems, although these inconveniences either subtly fix themselves or are quickly shielded by on-screen antics. The music intertwined throughout intentionally toys with the heartstrings (upbeat when happy, melancholic when sad) but nevertheless always finds an acceptable rhythm with events. The Groundhog Day-like premise is not original, but does not need to be when the focus is solely on the characters. Clichés are found wriggling around in various forms (“If we could travel back in time”), but unusually seem welcome.

Curtis ensures that the people depicted in About Time matter, creating a film which is lovable without being glamorous and one that always has its heart in the right place.

Credit: Gala
Credit: Gala