Saturday, 11 October 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

When I'm stuck for something to do I go to the cinema.

This summer Edge of Tomorrow was my go-to film. After seeing it for the first time and absolutely loving it, it became the film I'd go and see when there was nothing else on or I wasn't in the mood to take a risk with something new. I eventually saw it three times - all in IMAX - and each time was better than the last.

Edge of Tomorrow is released on DVD in the UK on Monday (13th October 2014), and I - for one - cannot wait to finally get my hands on it!

When it comes to blockbusters, finding one that’s genuinely original these days is starting to feel like an impossible task. Each one is either a reboot of an older film, hardly developed or improved upon at all; or a rehash of an overused and predictable plot, poorly disguised by state-of-the-art special effects and a couple of Hollywood heavyweights. Miraculously Edge of Tomorrow succeeds where recently so many others have failed. The best way to describe it – as so many have in the press – is Aliens meets Groundhog Day, making it appear to be on the surface fundamentally an amalgamation of several well-loved and iconic films. However the blatant similarities to previous films are lifted by a combination of twists in the excellent script and unexpected casting against type, ensuring that against all odds Edge of Tomorrow is a unique take on the sci-fi time-loop genre.


Lt. Col. Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) is the top PR man for the UK-based United Defence Force, which is fighting an alien invasion that has swept across and engulfed Russia and most of Europe. Cage is unceremoniously demoted and sent to fight in ‘Operation Downfall’ on the beaches of Normandy in the final push of the war. Inexperienced in combat, he is killed within minutes by one of the attacking ‘mimics’ and he finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop, waking up alive on the morning of his second-to-last day and subsequently forced to live out the same brutal combat over and over, continually fighting and dying, as the enemy increases in strength and victory seems to slip further away…

Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Trilogy, Mr and Mrs Smith) and his screenwriting trio of Christopher McQuarrie and brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth have produced a wonderful adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill. However, all inspiration for Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t come merely from the text or the incredibly similar films preceding it: this is a film undoubtedly shaped by video games. Each time Cage is killed in battle he is essentially beginning again from a save point. This start-over mentality and the replaying of certain scenes over and over again in order to learn new ways to survive further into the future is highly reminiscent of gaming culture. Cage must learn from his deaths in the way we learn from our mistakes, and the key to his survival lies in learning a pattern of moves to help him navigate through the quagmire of war. Each death means next time he can anticipate which direction to move in, when to shoot, and how to avoid the hyper-intelligent aliens that unexpectedly burst out of the sand on the beaches. The comparisons with gaming at times are a little too obvious, but it adds a fantastic dimension to a well-worn plot, and although it may seem a little too mechanical and formulaic on paper it works brilliantly on screen.

One of the most refreshing elements of the film is the international aspect, and there’s a real joy in having a huge summer blockbuster take place in Europe. More often than not alien invasions that threaten to ensnare the entire world in disaster somehow only happen in the New Mexico desert or the centre of Manhattan, but here London and Paris form the epicenter of the action. The majority of Europe has fallen to the invasion and it is a resistance of European armies supported by Russian and Chinese troops in the East that fights for the human race’s survival. If anything America isn’t painted in the most favourable light, with the limited American characters even looking weak in comparison to the strength of their Europeans counterparts.

Bill Paxton’s sergeant barks orders while speaking of redemption and being reborn in death – an evangelical rhetoric that immediately seems ridiculous – and Tom Cruise is initially unlikeable, the type of media man that we've learnt to distrust, his smile a little too fixed and not a hair out of place. Compared to the commanding Brendan Gleeson leading the fight, Emily Blunt’s tour-de-force war heroine Rita Vrataski, and the scores of European soldiers repeatedly giving their lives, this isn’t America doing what it does best and saving the day by any stretch of the imagination.

The special effects might be glorious – the exoskeletons worn by the soldiers are the right amount of futuristic and realistic, and the battle scenes are a tense and chaotic combination of close-up explosions and sweeping shots of battle ravaged Normandy beaches – but the cast are the real talking point, as magnificent as they are surprising. Tom Cruise is cast completely against type as an awkward, smarmy PR man that puts his Hollywood smile to good use and isn’t above blackmail to keep him off the front lines. He's not the Tom Cruise we're used to seeing, and it works wonderfully. It’s not a complete departure from his usual role – after all he does ultimately develop into a sort of hero – and he’s not totally out of his comfort zone like he was in the hilarious Tropic Thunder, but it’s a subtle shift that he plays masterfully.

Whether it's as the “Angel of Verdun” or the “Full Metal Bitch”, Emily Blunt undoubtedly takes centre stage throughout the entire film as legendary soldier and poster-girl for the war Rita Vrataski. She is not there merely as an object of lust subordinate to Tom Cruise's hero, or as a weak love interest on screen to be ‘fridged’ at any moment. What makes her stand out beautifully is the fact that every other character respects and admires her because she's an excellent soldier who has earned her reputation on the battlefield with extensive combat experience. At no stage does she need Cage to protect her or is she seen scantily clad for no apparent reason: showing how it’s actually possible to write strong female action heroes without reducing them to subservient and patronizing roles. Blunt manages to steal every scene she’s in which is no mean feat when sharing a screen with Tom Cruise, but it further highlights that he’s definitely not the hero here.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the film embraces the time-jumping formula of a hero attempting to defeat a power greater and more terrifying than anything ever encountered before, but Edge of Tomorrow is proof that recycling old plots can be creative and it’s possible to achieve the seemingly impossible. After all, if Tom Cruise can look seriously panicked in a battle scene holding a gun, then anything can happen.


Edge of Tomorrow is released on DVD in the UK on Monday 13th October 2014

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