Big budget science fiction movies suck nowadays. Before computers could animate epic space battles or giant robot fights, sci-fi had to rely on more than just effects; it needed a good story, cool visual designs, and most importantly an interesting premise. That’s how we got classics like Alien, Terminator, Blade Runner, and those movies with the laser-saber thingies.
But in the last several years, blockbuster sci-fi movies are notable either for how simplistic and mind-numbing they are (Transformers, Avatar, Elysium) or how overly convoluted they are (Inception, Prometheus). In fact, I’d argue that the best, most original science fiction movies of the last few years have been ones that are smaller movies with relatively low budgets and thus can’t rely on spectacle but actually needs smart mechanics — I’m talking mainly about Moon, District 9 and Looper.
Let’s put it this way — with the rise and subsequent overemphasis on special effects, we went from Aliens and Predator to Alien vs. Predator. I rest my case.
It’s rare to have a contemporary Hollywood movie in the genre that has the money to overload the audience with lasers and explosions, but isn’t content with just doing that. And Edge of Tomorrow is that rare exception. It’s just a shame that on the outside it looks as generic as any other alien invasion movie. Big, bulky exo-skeletons with guns mounted on them, a bad-ass woman soldier with a giant sword, and crazy aliens ripping people to shreds — all taking place on a desolate gray battlefield. The trailers never looked particularly memorable, nor does the stupidly bland title (though “Edge of Tomorrow” at least says more about the plot than the movie’s old, nonsensical title, “All You Need is Kill”).
Edge of Tomorrow tells the story of… uhh, a guy played by Tom Cruise. He’s a retired soldier who is forced back into service for no discernible reason. He is literally dropped into a giant battle against these crazy-looking alien dudes and is promptly brutally murdered by one of them, only to wake up to the day before the fight. With the help of a female warrior played by Emily Blunt, he must relive the same day over and over until he can figure out how to defeat the enemy forces.
If it sounds like you’ve lived that movie before, it’s because it’s basically Groundhog Day meets “Generic Alien Invasion Movie #113”. But that’s fine, because Groundhog Day is a stone cold classic and I’m pretty sure the ‘reliving the same day’ mechanic would work well with any genre. Like a heist movie where robbers have relive the heist until they get away with the money. Or a Nicholas Sparks romance where a dude must relive the day his girlfriend dies to try and save her until he realizes that what he really needs is to let her go. (There’s two free ones, Hollywood).
Source Code, a 2011 sci-fi movie with a similar concept had a budget of around 30 million dollars. In contrast, Edge of Tomorrow cost 178 million dollars, and its giant budget shows in its lavish depiction of alien destruction, with bullets and lasers flying everywhere and future-aircraft falling everywhere. Especially impressive are the alien designs and animations. The ‘Mimics’, as they’re called, are very creepy in their zippy movements and their always-undulating masses of tendrils. Their lifeless faces with huge gaping mouths recall Harry Potter’s Dementors, if Dementors were 100 times faster and actually ever did what they’re supposed to do.
But all of this expensive window-dressing wouldn’t be worth much if there wasn’t something interesting going on underneath. Luckily, the execution of the film’s concept is pretty amazing. It allows not just for audiences to feel the frustration and tension that Cruise’s character feels every time he dies and must restart his quest, but it also opens the doors to some really ingenious, hilarious moments revolving around often-repeated lines of dialogues or action beats.
I also thought that the movie was brilliant in that it feels kind of like a satire of the type of movie the trailer made it out to be. Think about it: the movie has an action hero going through the same generic alien battle over and over again, trying to find a way to stop it. I’m probably reading way too much into it, but much like 22 Jump Street made fun of the unoriginality of Hollywood, I felt that Edge of Tomorrow took a similar stance, albeit far, far more subtle.
It’s the stuff surrounding the Groundhog Day mechanics that holds the movie back. The actual reason that Cruise keeps coming back to life and what they need to do feels really flimsy and unoriginal, and basically screams “whatever, it’s a summer movie, don’t think too much about it!” Put differently, the premise may be really smart, but the story itself is actually pretty stupid. But then again, the same was true about (the original) Total Recall, but that movie is awesome.
Luckily, the movie keeps you so involved with Cruise’s moment-to-moment struggle and hammers you with enough action that it’s fairly easy to overlook the nonsensical big picture. It also helps that Cruise, regardless of what you think about him as a person, still knows how to lead a movie. He’s committed, charismatic, and in this movie he seems to have a good sense of humor (unlike his public persona). It’s refreshing that, unlike in the Mission Impossible movies, he starts the movie as a clumsy, confused idiot on his way to becoming ‘Usual Bad-Ass Cruise’. Meanwhile, Emily Blunt really proves herself as a viable action star here, with her emotional eyes and severe facial features adding a crucial layer of depth to an otherwise very typical character type.
Overall, Edge of Tomorrow is yet another victim to poor marketing. It’s hard to sell a smartly-made movie when it looks the most generic movie possible. You just have to trust me that it’s not, I guess. It’s a shame that the movie wasn’t a bigger hit, because Hollywood will likely get the message that putting their faith in an idea that is actually good won’t have the same commercial success as, say, Transformers. l’m sure that the movie will gain more recognition once it’s out on DVD and word can really spread about how good it is. But my two cents is to wait until Transformers is on DVD and see this movie on the big screen, not the other way around.
But who’s going to hear me when my voice is drowned out by endless Michael Bay explosions. BRRRRAAARR! BROOOOM! Transformersssssssssss, ROBOTSSSS IN DISGUISEEEE!!!!$$$$$$$
Score: 4 out of 5