Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"EDGE OF TOMORROW" (2014) Review




"EDGE OF TOMORROW" (2014) Review

I have seen my share of alien invasion and/or post-apocalypse movie and television productions. And yet . . . there seemed to be deluge of these productions in the past two years or so. One of these productions happened to be the recent science-fiction movie, "EDGE OF TOMORROW".

Based upon Hiroshi Sakurazaka's 2004 novel called "All You Need Is Kill", "EDGE OF TOMORROW" tells the story of an American-born military officer who finds himself caught in a time loop during a war with invading aliens who have taken over regions of the world, including continental Europe. The movie begins in the near future in which Major William Cage, an American military Public Relations officer is summoned in London to meet General Brigham, commander of the NATO-led United Defense Forces (UDF). Brigham reveals UDF's intention to launch Operation Downfall against the aliens, who are called the Mimics. When Brigham orders Cage, who lacks combat experience, to cover the UDF's landing on the beaches of Normandy in France, the latter objects to the dangerous assignment and threatens to portray the General in an unfavorable light. Brigham retaliates by having Cage arrested and knocked out. The latter regains consciousness at a forward operating base at Heathrow Airport for the UDF forces, with a note from Brigham stating that he is actually a private and a deserter falsely claiming to be an officer. Master Sergeant Farell assigns Cage to a squad of rejects known as J Squad. A frightened Cage is forced to land on one of the Normandy beaches with J Squad. Despite being disoriented and frightened, he manages to kill a Mimic - a large "Alpha" Mimic - before being killed.

Much to Cage's surprise, he awakens at the Heathrow Airport base on the previous morning. Over and over again, he participates in the Normandy landing and is killed. And over again, he finds himself back at the airport base on the previous day. During one loop, Cage saves war heroineaka "Full Metal Bitch" and "Angel of Verdun". When she realizes that he has been experiencing time loops, she orders him to seek her out. Cage eventually learns from Vrataski that she had also been caught in a time loop after killing an "Alpha" Mimic. She not only points out that he needs to build his fighting skills, go after the Mimics' leader and finally kill it in order to end the latter's invasion.

I am usually a major fan of time travel stories in movies and television - including those that deal with time loops. But my last encounter with time travel fiction - "X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST" - nearly left me feeling slightly leery of the genre. Despite this brief disappointment, I went ahead and watched "EDGE OF TOMORROW". I cannot say that I felt the same disappointment that I did for the X-MEN film. But I do believe that "EDGE OF TOMORROW" had its shares of flaws. After all, just about every movie I have seen do. In the case of "EDGE OF TOMORROW", I had . . . perhaps two problems with this film. One, I had a problem with how Cage, a major in the military, ended up being railroaded as a private with an infantry squad. The entire situation smacked of realism that no science-fiction or fantasy genre could explain. The main protagonist in Sakurazaka's novel was a young recruit. Which meant there was no need for the Keiji Kiriya character to be railroaded into an infantry squad as a private in such an unrealistic manner. My other problem with "EDGE OF TOMORROW" happened to be the movie's finale. I was not truly disappointed with the finale. But I found it rather confusing. I wish I could spell it out in details, but for me to do so would spoil the story.

Despite these disappointments, I must admit that I enjoyed "EDGE OF TOMORROW" very much. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that it has become not only one of my top favorite movies of the summer, but also of this year. I certainly had no problems with the technical aspects of "EDGE OF TOMORROW". Doug Liman had worked in the science-fiction genre before and I could easily see that he had no problems with the crew to create a dazzling science-fiction background for the film. But he is not the only one who deserves credit. Oliver Scholl's production designs did an excellent job in creating the movie's setting of Western Europe in a half-state of destruction in the wake of an alien invasion. Scholl's work was ably supported by the art direction team, Elli Griff's set decorations and Kate Hawley's costume designs. Speaking of the latter, I noticed that the officer's uniform that Tom Cruise wore in the movie's early scenes resembled that worn by those in the U.S. Marine Corps. And yet . . . I saw no signs of any Marine symbols on his jacket. This reminded me of a prediction that my father had once made about how all of the U.S. military branches would eventually morph into one service. Also, looking at the field . . . uh, uniforms that Cruise, Emily Blunt and other cast members wore struck me as very uncomfortable. I found myself wondering if future military units will end up wearing it. But I was really impressed by the special effects team that created the visual style of the Mimics. Although the aliens reminded me octopi, I found them rather scary. Words could not describe how my reaction to Dion Beebe's cinematography. Perhaps the following images can:

EoT3

mimic2

The use of time loops as a fictional device may not be that original. However, for "EDGE OF TOMORROW", I have to give credit to Sakurazaka and the movie's screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth for avoiding the usual literary premise of allowing a protagonist to be caught in a time loop without any real explanation - like 1993's "GROUNDHOG DAY". Both Sakurazaka's novel and the movie's screenplay made it clear to audiences how the protagonists got caught in a time loop, thank goodness. It is also rare to come across an alien invasion film that begins with the invasion already happening. Not only do I commend Sakurazaka for beginning his story in this fashion, but also the screenwriters and filmmakers for adhering to it and not taking the trouble to patch on a scene depicting the beginning of the Mimics' invasion.

"EDGE OF TOMORROW" did an excellent job in developing its major characters - especially three of them. The character of William Cage begins as a smarmy public relations man who tries to resort to desperate measures - namely threating to portray the UDF's commander in an unfavorable light in the press - in order to avoid combat. As circumstances forces Gage to take his combat skills seriously, the screenwriters effectively developed his character into a hardened combat fighter who becomes resigned to his situation. By the end of the movie, his smarminess has disappeared. I was also impressed by the development of the Rita Vrataski character, who begins her story as a combat hardened veteran, who has emotionally distanced herself from her fellow soldiers. As the story progresses and Gage becomes more familiar with her, audiences are allowed more peeks into her real emotions and the reason behind her hard and stoic fa├žade. I was especially surprised by the writers' handling of the Master Sergeant Farell character. I had expected his character to remain consistent throughout the film - the tough and battle hardened sergeant who maintains a firm grip on his squad. In a way, the Farell character remained in this state throughout the film. But . . . I was pleasantly surprised at how he seemed to react with increasing confusion and surprise in his encounters with the developing Cage.

I certainly had no complaints regarding the performances in "EDGE OF TOMORROW". I did find the portrayals of the J Squad soldiers somewhat one-dimensional, with the exception of two characters - Ford and Griff. Franz Drameh injected a bit of an edge to Ford's character in a scene that revealed his financial assistance to the family of a dead colleague. And Kick Gurry, whom I last saw in the 2008 movie "SPEED RACER", did an excellent job of developing the Griff character from a mindless grunt to a determined defender in the movie's last action sequence. Although the General Brigham character remained consistent throughout, I have to compliment Brendan Gleeson for giving a masterful and more importantly, subtle portrayal of a rather ruthless and vindictive character. Bill Paxton, who seemed to been very busy these past two years, did an excellent job of conveying the screenplay's different aspects of the Master Sergeant Farell character. I have now seen Emily Blunt in three science-fiction movies in the past three years. Sooner or later, someone in the media might end up dubbing her "Queen of Sci-Fi". However, I feel that of the three roles I have seen her portray, my favorite just might be her excellent take on the Rita Vrataski role. Honestly, she was superb. I have to say the same about Tom Cruise, who portrayed the leading character, William Cage. He had the difficult task of developing Cage from a smarmy and somewhat cowardly Public Relations man to an experienced warrior, wearied by the combat violence and constant time loops. And being the exceptional actor that he is, Cruise managed to do his job with flying aces.

Yes, "EDGE OF TOMORROW" has its flaws. As I have stated many times in previous review, I have yet to see a movie that does not have any. But the writing, production values, the excellent performances by a cast led by Tom Cruise and outstanding direction by Doug Liman made "EDGE OF TOMORROW" one of the best movies I have seen this summer. Even if the summer of 2014 had not been so dismal, I still would have viewed this film as one of the best I have seen.

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