Sorry folks, this one was late. I was a lil busy at Phoenix Comic Con and didn’t get a chance to see this until tonight. In my usual fashion I am forgoing sleep to get a review out. I am pretty sure this is a form of mild insanity. Ok, so as usual spoiler free, but if you have seen a single trailer for it you know it involves time travel. Ugh that makes it a challenge to write a review without spoilers on a movie that has such a wibbly wobbly timey-wimey narrative.
This isn’t to say the narrative is bad or confusing. Is it a hodge podge of other plots you’ve seen before? Yep. This is Groundhogs Day + Starship Troopers + Mass Effect + probably a few others I could name but won’t. The last Tom Cruise movie I saw, Oblivion (I really need a page so I can link to these), did this too. An amalgam of plots we’ve seen blended with some care and only a little grace to create a final product. Does it do it well?
For starters, this one is based off of a story by Japanese author Hiroshi Sakurazaka published in 2004. I cannot speak to the original source material beyond I can see the clear influence of it through the narrative and the places the movie went that we would not innately go in the US. The screenplay then has the dreaded 3+ Rule applied with multiple individuals adapting this. Christopher McQuarrie best known for Jack Reacher, The Tourist, and the Usual Suspects. In other words he likes using characters to drive the story forward. Good. There’s Jez Butterworth, who has the 2007 bomb the Last Legion and 2010 politico thriller Fair Game. No idea what he added or how he got the work based on history here. There is also his younger brother John-Henry Butterworth, who also worked on Fair Game. My feeling here is that the brothers wrote the original screenplay and McQuarrie was brought in for rewrites and polish. This is a fairly common thing in Hollywood and leads to the problems we often find in the plot.
What is the plot? Major Cage (Tom Cruise) is being sent into a D-Day style final battle against an alien threat called Mimics. During the battle he dies (this is not a spoiler) then wakes up (still no spoiler). During the course of understanding this he encounters Sgt Vanke (Emily Blunt) who has answers. Together they will try to stop the failure that is the D-Day invasion and hopefully stop the alien menace.
You have no idea how hard it is to avoid spoilers here. Director Doug Linman (Jumper, Mr. & Mrs Smith, Bourne Identity) brings an A Game we have not seen to date outside of Bourne to this. With the exception of ONE decision the entire film I think he did it all right. He deals with the time travel in a fairly inventive way and is smart enough to not let the plot over explain it. He sets ground rules and expects you to follow along or get left behind. No real time or effort is wasted in exploring the why’s just the whats. This is brilliant. When watching a movie, I expect it to meet it’s own rules, by not firmly setting all the rules he gives himself some freedom and avoids traps and paradoxes other stories hit head on (Looper).
I *LIKE* movies that do this. Give me a world. Go over the basics. I will either accept this or reject it. Too much detail creates traps that sharp minds will spring on the writers, directors, and their work. He does this fairly well and again with one exception doesn’t leave me angry at his choices; including the cast.
Tom Cruise is picking interesting films of late with two of his last three being firmly entrenched in sci fi. Both of which are doing their best to give us something new from the ashes of the sci fi we have had before. I know some people have issues with him on a personal level. I don’t care. I really don’t. Does he act well? I think so. Does he entertain me? With few exceptions, yes he does. He delves into relatively new territory here and I enjoy the exploration of his character as he lives, dies, and resets. He really pulls off the damage this can do to your psyche. You don’t get a firm count on how often it has happened, and you know it has happened more times than they show, but you know it is A LOT of pain and death.
Supporting him fully here is Emily Blunt. You ask yourselves, the Love interest from Looper? The love interest in The Adjustment Bureau. The love interest in The Wolfman and the dramatic female actress from so many romantic dramas I can’t count them all. How does this person support Tom Cruise in a war movie? By being the biggest and baddest person on screen. She is fit, she is commanding, she is powerful. She is the force of nature that earns the nickname her character has in the story. Her power is what drives him and what drives the story forward. Both characters develop as the story goes on and sadly hers to a lesser extent than his. She however makes the action look effortless. She has a natural chemistry with Cruise that makes their battlefield camaraderie work.
The supporting cast really isn’t worth mentioning. They were cast for who they are and what they bring and are nothing but backdrop charactertures. Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson as entertaining as they are could have their parts filled by others with the near the same result. Sad that. The others bear next to no mention. They get little screen time and little impact. Both good and bad there.
Technically? Well here’s where I can get a little ..bothered. The creature design is clearly inspired by the biomechanical squiddies from Matrix. Down vote. They move like some of the things from Battleship. Downvote. In combination and with their additional details they do create a new creature in our sci fi consciousness which is still oddly interesting. Upvote. Too bad you don’t get to see a lot of them. I get that in film with heavy CG you have to find new ways to hide things and blurry quick motions are an easy way to do it. This bordered on abusive and may have crossed the line. The power armor itself was awesome and even if it was inspired from non canonical sources in its design I have not quite seen THIS design before. I like what I saw and I like how they used it. The biggest problem of the movie is the camera work on the action. I do like to see it. They do great work on the slow beats in the battles but when the pulse is to be pounding, the eyes are too busy to make sense of it all. When you do see things I admit it looks cool as hell.
The only other technical flaw is the final credits. I am tired of blue print sequences ala Iron Man. I am tired of pop music that is vaguely ironic or tied to the film by the most tenuous thread. John Newman’s light poppy beat Love me Again is a mangled mess of a song to have attached to this movie. It took me so out of the film it was painful and jarring. It did NOT belong in the credits at all. This isn’t saying it’s a bad song. It isn’t. Its just a poor choice and was used simply because it has a “again”/time element to it. Even if it is slightly overused Imagine Dragons Radioactive would have been better. Linkin Park’s What I’ve done or Bleed it Out, while ‘older’ would have felt more natural to how the film ended from a musical queue. 30 Seconds to Mars – This is War or Kings and Queens, if you need something softer would work. Love Me Again – definitely not.
TL;DR? Thought so.
Yes this movie borrows heavily from many concepts done before, but it does it well. This is an important movie to sci fi and if the genre is something you enjoy – You must see this film.
If Sci fi and War movies are not your thing you either didn’t read this review or did and now know you shouldn’t see this. That opinion stands.
This is a REALLY good sci fi film. It doesn’t necessarily make you ask questions, which keeps it from being great, but weaves a solid narrative and interesting action with that science fiction bent. It does a lot really well and only fails in a few places I couldn’t talk about here. If this is your genre – this is your movie.
Please go see Edge of Tomorrow. We need more good sci fi and movies like this need our support. It wont change the world on its own but given time and a little patience it can help bring us to a brighter future of Sci Fi.
This weeks review – Dragons…..