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Monday, June 16, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

All You Need is Kill! All You Need is Kill! All You Need is Kill!!!!!

No. I will not drop it.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

As the endgame of a long and brutal war with an invading alien force quickly approaches, humanity's last and greatest hope lies in the unlikely form of PR Officer and overall coward, Major William Cage. Cage has spent his military career doing whatever he can to avoid any actual military action and when he is forced to join the frontlines of humanity's most desperate battle yet, all of his fears and cowardice proves true as he is summarily killed in action by a particularly strange alien aggressor. This turns out to be only the beginning for Major Cage though, as his death causes him to be stuck in an apparent time loop where every time he dies, he “resets” the day. What at first seems to be nothing more than a painful source of aggravation, soon becomes humanity's most powerful weapon against the invaders, as Cage teams up with Rita Vratski, humanity's greatest soldier and a past possessor of Cage's extraordinary powers.

What we thought

Mirroring this past weekend in the US, this coming Friday will see cinemas throughout the country involved in what must surely be the year's most intriguing box office battle. On the one side, we have The Fault In Our Stars, a beautiful, funny, thought provoking and endlessly moving adaptation of a YA literary sensation. On the other, we have this dementedly entertaining sci-fi actioner, headlined by that most dementedly entertaining of Box Office cash cows, Tom Cruise, that is itself based on a beloved novel – though, admittedly, of a distinctly more cultish (not to mention Japanese) stripe. Sexists would no doubt boil this down to a battle between “one for the boys” and “one for the girls”, but, personally, I think this is two for everybody. It doesn't matter which one ultimately does better at the box office (though for the record Stars is the clear winner in the US) because, in this battle of the box office giants, it's audiences who are the true winners.

If you're in the mood for something with loads of heart and soul then you could do little better than the surprisingly wonderful Fault in Our Stars. If, however, you're not quite ready to bust out the tissues and are looking for something that is more escapist than heartbreaking then, boy, do I have the thing for you. Edge of Tomorrow may have a truly terribly generic title (it basically just means 11:59 PM, surely?) that was inexplicably changed from the source novel's much more memorable and content-appropriate moniker of All You Need Is Kill, but it more than earns its place in the long tradition of time-loop and/ or time travel movies. And alien invasion movies too, for that matter.

Now, to be absolutely clear about this, Edge of Tomorrow is, by its very nature, quite derivative and is also no where near as emotionally compelling as many of its predecessors (Groundhog Day, The Time Traveller's Wife, Source Code, even Back to the Future) but, again, if you want something to tug more successfully on your heartstrings, there is a great, brand new drama one cinema (presumably) over just for you. What Edge of Tomorrow has going for it though, is pure, unbridled entertainment - and lots of it.
The action scenes are thrilling and somehow manage to be quite video-game-like without ever leaving you feeling like you're watching someone else play a video game (neat trick that), while the story itself is twisty and compelling without ever getting in the way of the pacey, thrill-ride nature of the rest of the film. What really sells the film though, are two amazing lead performances by two actors playing quite brazenly against type and – its greatest secret weapon of all – a killer sense of humour that is dark, demented and slapstick all at once.

Tom Cruise may, in effect, still be playing the saviour of all mankind but his character starts off as incredibly cowardly and manipulative bastard and though his character arc does turn him into someone far nobler, he isn't actually the main hero of the film. No, the title of bravest, most kickass and most heroic character belongs to Emily Blunt's Rita Vratski. Though it's certainly not the case that she has never done anything quite like this (Looper anyone?), Blunt is probably still best, if unfairly, known for roles that are, if not prim and proper, then at least quite stereotypically “girlish” - hopefully this role will kill off that particular bit of stupid typecasting for good. She's feminine as hell here, no doubt about that, but she's also strong, tough, take-charge and super-capable and she generally leaves all the other men in her dust in terms of pure ass-kickery. It's interesting though, that though Cruise and Blunt are great together, it's less for their romantic chemistry (though that's there too, to a point) than for a surprisingly fitting easy-going and comedic rapport.

There really is no two ways about: Edge of Tomorrow is funny as hell. The film especially takes an untold amount of pleasure in killing off its main character in increasingly mad and outright hilarious ways that only increases once Blunt gets involved in “resetting the day”, when necessary. Cruise has gotten a lot of flack over the years for being, well, a bit of a nutter in real life but he's still a charismatic and effortlessly compelling leading man and, if nothing else, you have to admire how game he is here at basically granting his greatest haters' darkest wishes by dying over and over and over again on screen, in often quite shockingly comic ways.

While it's great to see a truly worthy teen-drama doing so well at the box office, it's a shame that Edge of Tomorrow has had a rather lackluster showing in the States as it is both an affirmation of Cruise's worth as a film star and a testament to the continued awesomeness of Emily Blunt, while being something of a redemption for director Doug Liman, who finally picked himself up after a string of particularly woeful duds like Mr and Mrs Smith and Jumper. If the film does fail though, I think we can all agree that it's all the fault of whichever numskull decided that Edge of Tomorrow is somehow a better title than All You Need is Kill. That must be it!


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