Monday, September 29, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Watching someone play a video game can be entertaining or irritating.  Watching Edge of Tomorrow is just like the former category; the character tries to survive a mission, totally blind at first to the obstacles he must face, die a bunch of times, and eventually get further and further until he beats it. Based on the Japanese light novel All You Need is Kill (the best title in the history of titles) by Hiroshi Sakurazaka,  Edge of Tomorrow is a really fun and expertly crafted film that may look obscenely generic from a production design standpoint, but its script is wonderfully original.

Ok, so maybe the idea of a man reliving the same day over and over again has been done, and it's been done better (I personally think Groundhog's Day is a masterpiece).  However, for a CGI-heavy, action-driven, explosion fest, Edge of Tomorrow's greatest strength is probably its darkly comedic tone. We are thrown into the world of the not-too-distant-future (yeah, yeah, "way down in deep 13") where an alien race called the Mimics has invaded, and they are of course threatening to destroy the Earth.  Military forces are barely making a dent in stopping the invasion, but there is one woman, Seargeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who was recently a key asset in earning Earth its first victorious battle.

The soldiers who combat these Mimics wear special battle armor called ExoSuits that give them intense protection and firepower, but don't seem to be strong enough to help them win the war (though the in-movie advertisements for the ExoSuits are meant to get average people believing that ANYONE can be a soldier).  Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a public relations officer and head of the ExoSuit's advertising, finds himself rebelling against the powers that be (in the form of General Brigham (Brenden Gleeson)), gets himself knocked unconscious, and is thrown into a military camp.  There, he is framed as a soldier who tried to go AWOL and gets forced into combat under the orders of Sergeant Farell (Bill where-has-he-been Paxton).  On this particular day, the military stages an offensive attack on the Mimic's territory, and Cage doesn't even know how to work the suit he'd spent so much effort promoting.  Cage is killed in battle after the attack fails horribly, however, he mysteriously wakes up back at the army camp at the beginning of the day like nothing ever happened; excepts he's the only one who remembers it.

From here on out, we get the familiar "guy living the same day over and over again" tropes, but they're done at a quick pace without much dwelling.  Cruise's reaction to living the same day over and over again is priceless, and weirdly enough, never grows tiring as the film continues.  Watching Cage relive this day multiple times and discovering new and better battle tactics might have made for an entertaining enough movie, but the more information that's revealed about Emily Blunt's character, the more fun there is to be had.   Saying too much about the film's plot beyond my summary has the major potential to be spoiler heavy, and since this movie sort of bombed at the box office, I assume there are plenty of genre fans out there who still haven't seen it.

Too bad so many people missed out! Seeing Edge in IMAX was exhilarating, and while I don't think the 3D effect added anything to the experience, it was never outright bad.  From a design standpoint, the movie looks generic by modern action/sci-fi movie standards (Elysium comes most prominently to mind), which is my theory for why it wasn't the smash hit the studio expected it to be.  However, the story itself is engaging, the characters are well-developed, and the humor is fantastic.  Who ever thought watching Tom Cruise die over and over again would be so hilarious? Don't answer that.

What often helps make a classic sci-fi movie memorable is the musical score, and man-oh-man is Edge's score forgettable.  It sounds like wannabe Hans Zimmer music for most part; just fast, repetitive violins, BWAM sounds, and echoey drums.  Does it fit the movie's tone? Of course it does.  But everything since The Dark Knight sounds like this, completely bland and devoid of memorable leitmotifs or discernible melodies.  Christophe Beck, who did a wonderful job scoring Frozen last year (wrote the score not the songs), is not at his most creative here.  I don't know if it's studio interference, composer's choices, or just an unconscious trap that most modern scores fall into, but for me it's a big disappointment that we just don't get great music to go along with otherwise great movies.  For God's sake, the music for the trailer was so much better!

The design of the aliens is a strange choice, and I give it props for originality.  However, I don't think that the formless beasts that attack our heros come across as tangible.  It's just a wild CGI mass that's far too busy with movement for its own good; such an obvious CG-only effect never registers as something real or threatening.  I guess it's better than what it could have been (generic humanoids who can speak English, like the vast majority of sci-fi movies), but Edge's script is good enough to warrant a better design for its aliens.  I actually like the idea of them being beastly creatures that can't be reasoned with, but I can't help but feel like there was a better way to go about it.  Also, why were they called Mimics, again? It makes them sound like shape-shifters, which they never demonstrate themselves to be.

So much of Edge of Tomorrow is well written, paced, acted, and directed that the generic aesthetics only make the smallest dent in the movie's overall integrity, especially if one's expectations are lowered to the standards set by most of last year's sci-fi summer movie offerings.  Trust me, this is no Elysium.  It has heart, humor, action, and wonderful talent behind it to make it work the way it does.  That it was a box office disappointment is a real shame; it gives Hollywood the impression that the public doesn't want original movies if we don't see things like this but then see Transformers 4 twice.  It also kills me to learn that Summer 2014 was the worst summers, financially, in years.  I saw so many good movies this summer, Edge included.  I can only hope that through DVD sales and streaming services that it finds the audience it deserves sooner than later.