Taking the edge off tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is a dark comedy, at least the first half. It’s a sci-fi action flick, sure, but that is more like a backdrop for the fun it has with its story. We meet William Cage (Tom Cruise), a high-ranking liaisons officer for the U.S. military, who are busy fighting an alien intruder. Within a few minutes, Cage gets blackmailed, demoted and arrested by his general (played by Brendan Gleeson), abducted by his own army and wakes up in an American army base near London being shouted at by a detail leader who looks like Bill Paxton.

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Wait, it gets worse. And the worse it gets, the more I like that first hour. Cage is strapped in a high-tech weapons suit, put on a military aircraft together with his detail  and dropped off over the coast of Normandy, where everything goes fubar. It’s like D-Day orchestrated by Windows 8. There’s a nice running gag about nobody telling Cage how to switch off the safety. Almost everybody dies because the aliens have somehow figured out when and where the U.S. will strike. Cage wakes up again with Paxton staring at him. Reincarnation on repeat is just too much of a hassle – just ask Bill Murray. After he dies a few times more, Cage meets famous war heroine Rita Vrataski who has singlehandedly saved mankind at Verdun.

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That Rita is pragmatic. She knows about Cage’s loop because she has been in one herself. That loop, if you survive for long enough, gives you insight on how to vanquish the aliens, so whenever Rita feels that Cage is not doing too well, she reboots him. By shooting him. In the head. Repeatedly. I think Emily Blunt has just the right amount of gruff zeal with that role.

The second half of the movie has much less of that grim fun, and the movie is the worse for it. The sci-fi mission takes over, and I won’t spoil anything when I tell you that Cage destroys the alien headquarters. It’s all well made, but it’s by the book. Shame. The first bit has so much going for it. Imagine Tom Cruise running into the baracks, yelling at his platoon: “You’re doomed! Now listen to me! Your lives depend on it!” Cruise, like Cage, understands that this is a funny line, and has fun with it because he is the only one who will survive, no matter what.

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Those aliens. Some of them look like really aggressive mops that come out of the ground whenever they sense that humans are near. More evolved ones look like Treebeard has gone digital. That’s not too bad, but they’re not as inventive as they could have been. The screenplay is by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), based on a Japanese novel, and the movie is directed by Doug Lyman, who did three of the Bourne films, so he knows how to do a good action flick. My guess is that Lyman knows that, when he’s at his best, his movies are more than just entertainment. That is true for only the first half of this one.

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