Edge of Tomorrow – Doug Liman and what goes around comes around. (Film review)
I have to confess, I’m enjoying seeing Doug Liman getting some love at the moment. I do like his films a lot, a position I can only defend by the wishy-washy statement that his films always entertain me and never offend me, which (I guess) does make him stand out in the crowd. By no means is he a director I love (I never get that “Fassbinder” or “Godard” feeling with his films) but I always find myself having a good time, with none of my middle class white intellectual bullshit compromised, so I guess that statement serves as both explanation and warning. I even had a good time in the rather terrible Fair Game, which I will review this week, so we must have one of those “same page” things going on. Anyway, I have always felt a little for him after losing his hold on the much fought for Bourne Identity, which I happen to think is such a great film primarily because of Liman.
But I digress.
Edge of Tomorrow is a film that steals a little from some of the most famous films in modern history, such as Groundhog Day and Aliens, as well as a few more. It’s core plot reads like a late 1990’s video game and the alien looks so much like another one you expect everyone to be burnt with acid blood, but this is a film that surprises you with its depth, mostly brought about through the great performances of Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt and Doug Liman’s fantastic action sequence direction.
In the not to distant future, a species of alien, called “Mimics” for their ability to copy and supercede human military strategy have taken over the earth, starting in Germany. After several military defeats, humans have invented a kind of suit (yes, Alien’s again) they call “combat Jackets” that allow an increase in ammunition and gun styles as well as increased power in their physical abilities. This, combined with the inspiration of a special forces soldier , Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) who has found some success to her extraordinary battle skills, is the only hope the humans have to defeat the Mimics. A surprise attack on the Mimics is planed on th beaches of France, orchestrated and engineered by General Brigham (A really imposing Brendan Gleeson) and he hires Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) who has a marketing background, but no combat experience to act as a kind of PR film crew to make sure the people back home understand what they are doing and why – from his point of view of course. When Cage manages to offend the General, he is arrested and wakes up in the middle of preparations to hit the front. As punishment, he is assigned to the very first team to hit the beach, the group who know they’ve been sent on the death mission.
And this is the set up for what will end up being many, many days, as on the first drop, Cage is splattered with the (not acid) blood of one of the super mimics and finds he is constantly sent back in time, yet with memory retention that happens to act more and more like a super power as time goes on. He is able to make a connection to Vrataski who (no spoilers) decides to train him, and the two set about working out how to defeat the impossibly agile and intelligent Mimics. Part way through they visit one of my favourite actors, Noah Taylor who is reviving his own special brand of man genius science geek, that he started in the Lara Croft franchise. Tom Cruise is back in form for Edge of Tomorrow, having fun as a coward initially and gradually warming back into the action hero zone that made him such a screen legend.
But it isn’t any of the above that makes Edge of Tomorrow work, although I must give kudos to Cruise’s star power and magnetism. This is really Emily Blunt and Doug Liman’s film, as Blunt brings the serious underscore to the film that provides its depth. She is more than love interest here, she is written as a kind of badass war muse, part inspiration, part trainer, all super warrior. Her treatment of her character is a combination of playfulness and sincerity so we never get the idea she takes herself too seriously, but there is a sense of her coming to the rescue every time she is on-screen. In Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise is the rogue who might screw it up, Blunt is the hero you know will save the day if anything goes wrong. It’s a part she takes full advantage of, giving us access to her as a deeper character than simply a “chick” side kick for Cruise. And then, above all, it’s another Doug Liman surprise, just like The Bourne Identity was such a breath of fresh air. He is able to take source material, just the right combination of adherence to trope and freshness, slaps on a few obvious references and the rest he just makes his own. Despite the one hundred and sevety-eight million dollar budget, Liman has a feel for narrative as exhibited in his indie days, and here he is able to weave it all together into a coherent flow. Narrative structure is surely one of his strongest points, I can’t help thinking he’d be a great editor, because he really builds out of a screenplay, and has a great feel for pace.
Edge of Tomorrow is, if anything, a wonderful surprise and a film that will have won you over when you least expect it.