The widespread acclaim and expectations of a huge opening weekend for Doug Liman and Tom Cruise‘s Edge of Tomorrow (Warner Bros., opening today) are such that I thought I’d spritz things up by quoting from one of the very few negative reviews, written by Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. Is Kohn making a reasonable point? Isn’t Edge showing tonight here and there? The usual early-bird Thursday night showings? Responses from the HE community will start trickling in later this afternoon and evening but please fire away whatever your reaction.
“It’s impossible not to observe the explicit borrowing from Groundhog Day, an infinitely wiser and more astute storytelling accomplishment,” Kohn notes. “Edge of Tomorrow is slick, but once its fancy plot dressing takes form, it has little more to offer aside from a few impressive action sequences and the infallible grin of its nimble lead.
“The movie works just fine as a mild distraction, but arrives in theaters with a fanfare that suggests a far grander achievement.
“[For one thing], Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t bother to address its scenario in literal terms. Once it’s clear that each time Cruise bites the bullet, he reawakens on the same military base, Liman speeds up events with a series of repeated incidents that suggest he undergoes the same battlefield experience hundreds of times. As much as the movie has fun with prospects of killing off Cruise, it turns his experience into an ellipsis once the basic pieces have been assembled: Yeah, you get it, he dies a lot, let’s move on.
“While that approach worked marvelously in Groundhog Day to evoke the character’s omniscient awareness of his life, in Edge of Tomorrow it’s a bland excuse to speed things up. Like many movies made on its scale, one can sense the germ of an innovative idea never fully coming to fruition.
Here’s my 5.31 review again:
Doug Liman‘s Edge of Tomorrow (Warner Bros., 6.6) is an A-level, full-throttle, brain-tease-y sci-fi thriller and (don’t take this the wrong way) a videogame movie of the highest order. I realize, obviously, that “videogame movie” is a perjorative but this pleasure puppy knows how to smarten the material and make it seem…well, a bit deeper than it actually is. It’s basically about failing and learning, failing and learning, failing and learning a bit more. It’s Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers meets Playstation 4. And it’s not overlong or draggy or anything but super-efficient. It’s over before you know it.
The film, written by Chris McQuarrie and the Butterworth brothers (Jez and John-Henry), is about a military campaign to defeat a massive alien invasion of Europe that is much more dominating than anything Nazi Germany managed. The alien army is composed of “mimics,” which are mechanical spider-octopus monsters that number in the hundreds of thousands and are controlled…is this a spoiler?…by a big, glowing, spherical, electric-blue super-brain called “Omega.”
The hook is that three players — Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt on the weapons-bearing, combat-ready, above-the-title side, plus a nerdy, exposition-providing scientist played by Noah Taylor — are part of a continual time-repeat cycle. (I’m not going to explain how or why.) And throughout the film they’re faced with a series of formidable (i.e., scary as shit) combat challenges and obstructions that can and do result in getting “killed” over and over but instantly reborn each time. This allows them to learn from mistakes and possibly even win if — big “if” — he/she can get past these hurdles and zero in on the Big Target (i.e, “Omega”), which is roughly analogous to the “sum of all intelligence” Mr. Fishbowl guy in William Cameron Menzies‘ Invaders From Mars.
Yes, Cruise starts out as a slick-willy public-relations officer who’s thrown into battle by…I’m actually not sure why but I’ll figure it out eventually. Yes, he’s completely without combat training and is extremely reluctant if not horrified at what he’s suddenly being told to do, and yes, he dies many, many, many times. But the learning-the-ropes stuff only occupies the first 35% or 40% of the film.
Does Tomorrow deliver the Zen-fable resonance of Groundhog Day? No. In fact it would be a stretch to call it thoughtful. Depth is not what it’s selling. It’s not even especially emotional. But that’s okay because it’s very skillfully written with just enough exposition to keep you intrigued but at the same time holding back a little, etc. It’s also superbly cut and technically dazzling but familiar because it is a combat film first and foremost, and it really does deliver thrills like a first-rate game, and that — be honest — is what a good portion of the under-40s are looking for anyway.
The measure of the success of this thing is that even I, a saliva-spitting hater of the videogame/themepark aesthetic that has colored summer-tentpole movies for the last 25 years or more…even I had a really good (i.e., fully engaged, alert, non-frustating) time with Edge of Tomorrow.
This is about as earnest a compliment as I can give to a film like this, but Edge of Tomorrow never pisses you off by dumbing anything down. And it doesn’t play as repetitiously as you might expect. The big third-act finale in a waterlogged Paris somehow doesn’t quite ring the big gong, but by the time the film has done so much that is smart and satisfying and generally on-the-money that you’re inclined to cut it a break.