Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Film Review - 'Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow'





The human race is slowly, but surely, losing a long and drawn out war against an invading alien race. Millions have already died while the Mimics, named for their ability to anticipate and adapt to any strategy the human military try to use against them, seem unstoppable. In the course of the entire war, there has only been one significant victory for the human race - where, in her first battle, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) somehow managed to kill hundreds of the creatures (earning the dual nicknames the 'Angel of Verdun' and 'Full Metal Bitch' in the process).

In the midst of all of this, we meet Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), an officer who has never seen actual combat, and who is determined to keep it that way. Cage's role is purely PR - spinning the human race's war efforts to the media as best he can. When Cage is sent to London and placed under the command of General Brigham (Brandon Gleeson), though, he learns of a plan to send him to the front line of the next big battle, in order to document the planned battle on the beaches of Normandy as part of the military's propaganda campaign. Cage, naturally, isn't interested in putting himself at risk - even going as far as trying to blackmail the General in his efforts to talk his way out of the assignment. Though, Cage only succeeds in getting himself arrested. Now, instead of simply documenting the battle, General Brigham pulls a few strings to make sure that Cage will have to fight in it - a form of revenge that the General probably found amusingly fitting.

Cage's first experience with war goes about as well as you would expect, though. Cage is dead within minutes of hitting the beach - only to wake a moment later, finding himself back at a point hours before the battle. To his confusion, Cage finds himself reliving the last day of his life - only to find himself once more dying in battle against the alien Mimics, and waking once again.

Finding himself seemingly caught in a time-loop, Cage has no choice but the relive the same terrifying battle over and over again - until he finally finds himself thrown together with Rita Vrataski. Rita seems to recognise something in Cage's unnatural familiarity with the course of the battle - and, manages to tell him to meet her 'when he wakes up', moments before they each suffer yet another violent death.

So, from there, Cage finally has a clear goal - finding Rita before the battle. Fortunately, Rita has had her own first-hand experience with the strange ability of the Mimics (having briefly been caught in a time loop of her own in the battle that made her famous) - so, when he finally finds her, there is no need for any awkward explanations. From Rita, Cage is able to learn that his new-found ability to restart the day with each death is an ability stolen from the Mimics, themselves - and, the two are able to get straight to the task of trying to make use if in their war against the alien creatures.

One thing that makes Edge of Tomorrow (a film that was confusingly re-branded for the DVD release - but, Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow is too much of a mouthful to bother with) so interesting, for me, is the fact that we don't actually get any real information about the Mimics, themselves. By the end of the film, the audience still wont have any idea about what they actually are, why they are attacking, or what their end goal is. More importantly, we also don't get a full run-down on how their ability to manipulate time actually works - why did it only reset to a specific point, for example? Or, why doesn't Cage have any conscious control over it? Or, since it seems to be tied to the last moment that he woke up, what would have happened if he had taken a nap, at any point?

In all of these cases, we are really only given the character's best educated guess at what is happening, rather than any concrete answers. Whether you are willing to accept that, of course, is purely a matter of personal preference. It could either be a source of entertaining speculation on the part of the audience, or a source of frustration that ultimately ruins the film. For me, it was definitely the former, rather than the later. I enjoyed the fact that it wasn't all clearly spelt out for the audience, and I did come to feel that there was a reasonably consistent logic behind everything that happened which could be teased out (even with the film's initially confusing ending, which I wont spoil here). Time travel is always going to be a confusing topic to take on - and, it became one of Edge of Tomorrow's strengths that the film was able to handle it in a way that I was able to get on board with.

In this particular instance, not weighing the film down with detailed exposition on the true nature of the Mimics felt like the right decision. It seemed appropriate that they should be allowed to remain the same mysterious threat, by the end, that they were at the beginning of the film. They are certainly a suitably terrifying creation, too - all lashing, razor-sharp, tentacles and rapid unnatural movement. They are certainly up there among the most legitimately 'alien' creations I have come across in science fiction.

Tom Cruise is pretty great in what must have been a tricky role to get right. William Cage is a character who, naturally, changes a great deal over a short period of time (short for us, of course - not for him). It is largely due to Cruise's performance that the rapid and drastic change we see from the smug and cowardly PR man of the film's opening moments, to the worn and weary veteran we see toward the end, feels entirely natural.

Though she isn't given quite as much to work with, Emily Blunt is also impressive as the abrasive and intimidating 'Full Metal Bitch'. In many ways, Rita Vrataski is as much a mystery as the formidable alien invaders she is so devoted to fighting. And, also much like with the Mimics, this is probably intentional - with much of her background and motivation being left for the audience to define, themselves. We know that she was caught in a time-loop of her own in the Battle of Verdun, for example, before losing the ability to reset time. From there, we can safely assume that her own experience was quite similar to what we see with Cage - and, that her current cold demeanour is a direct result of that. While it might be possibly to dismiss Rita Vrataski as an undeveloped character, especially when compared with the varied performance that Tom Cruise is able to give, Emily Blunt's performance gives us more than enough to work with.

Most importantly, though, the two work well together - settling smoothly into the odd dynamic of the, essentially, static and unchanging Rita repeatedly meeting the ever evolving Cage for the first time.

There are moments of wonderful black comedy here, too, if you're worried that it's all sounding a bit too grim. Rita's willingness to force a reset by killing Cage, whenever it seems that they have hit a dead-end, is always entertaining. And, there seem to be plenty of moments where Cage's various deaths are played for laughs (We're probably better off not knowing how many times Cage had to try the 'action hero' style roll under a moving truck he goes for, at one point, before he got it right - especially after seeing the result of his first failed attempt).

Edge of Tomorrow is a great film. Any flaws that it may have would be due more to what isn't there, rather than what is. While I was satisfied, overall, with the ways in which Tom Cruise's performance allowed us to see Cage's development throughout the film, there were still moments where it felt a bit rushed - glossing over aspects of his character that I would have liked to see played out in more detail. Similarly, while I still thing that we were given enough about Rita to work with, I still feel like the film could have given us some more. I also would have liked to have seen some more moments of character develop for the supporting cast - who do, admittedly, often feel a little short-changed by the film's focus on its two leads. In general, I would have just liked Edge of Tomorrow to be a bit longer - though, that really just feels like nit-picking, at this point. Even with those minor issues, Edge of Tomorrow is still one of the best science fiction films I've seen in the past few years.

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