Live. Die. Repeat. (The film formerly known as Edge of Tomorrow)

From the outset, Edge of Tomorrow was promoted like a Groundhog Day for sadists.  In its official trailer, disembodied pseudo-techno accompanies fireballs and sand-blasted looks of powerlessness and disillusionment.  “I die within five minutes of landing on that beach,” we hear in deadpan Cruise voice-over as drop ships are picked indiscriminately out of the sky.  Defeat is palpable, and destined to repeat itself due to a time loop we’re clued into, seemingly raising the stakes and potential body count to supernatural levels.  Plus, folks are wearing mech suits.  Mech suits with shoulder cannons.  So logic was likely to be abandoned. My 8th grade self would have gotten loaded on blueberry ICEE and seen this at midnight.  I was certainly a much easier sell back then.  But this movie would not be good.  It would make money, for sure, but it looked for all intents and purposes, unremarkable.

And then I was pleasantly betrayed.  Betrayed by the marketing arm of the blockbuster machine.  Sure, aliens exploded in mists of blue blood, and sure, Emily Blunt has a few scenes of gratuitous hard-body yoga.  A giant meat cleaver of a sword is in fact employed in aerobic displays of violence.  But the excess that was promised was never actually realized.  Not in kind of overindulgent shlock we’re used to.  This film was focused on its science fiction.  The back-to-basics kind of science fiction where the possibilities of technology or reality bending actually push the narrative forward rather than act as shallow window dressing.  It was as remarkable and refreshing as it was just so unexpected.  And I was as pleased as any.

Now where you might take personal pleasure in watching Tom Cruise snuffed out over and over again in glorious high definition, the film lets you to have your cake and eat it too.  Light in its tone, and yet weighty enough to stay engaging and worthwhile—from an energy and pacing perspective, it’s near-perfection.  The film pops in and out of scenes with grace and has little fat to slow it down.  The plot moves ever forward, masterfully using the viewer’s awareness of the timeline to avoid repetition (which seems ironic) and boredom. As essentially the same two days repeated over again, a la a Groundhog Day, what you show on screen and for how long and why narratively it’s up there becomes absolutely crucial to the success of screenplay like this, and Edge of Tomorrow handled it brilliantly.

Both Cruise and Blunt are charismatic and charming and appropriately collected.  Never does sexual tension or romance get in the way of pacing.  Sci-fi purists are left with few qualms regarding stretches and breaks in logic.  The action is exciting and well-choreographed, yet restrained and appropriate.  I think Edge of Tomorrow will surprise even the most suspect with its tightly written script and no-nonsense approach to storytelling.  With enough sci-fi elements to stoke the imagination while staying palatable to the red-blooded American mainstream, it’s a reminder that sometimes, no matter how hard a studio tries to manipulate a shine, what is gold does not glitter.  Well, at least not in a 90 second TV spot kind-of-way.

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