Last weekend was kind of a lull in the summer movie death match. Sure, Disney’s mega-budgeted “Maleficent” and whatever “A Million Ways to Die in the West” was supposed to be opened wide, but neither one was exactly a juggernaut worthy of the bloody gladiatorial race. (And, somewhat predictably, their box office numbers bore this out.)
This week, there are a couple of new contestants: “The Fault in Our Stars,” a YA melodrama starring Shailene Woodley as a young cancer patient, and “Edge of Tomorrow,” starring Tom Cruise in a nifty “Groundhog Day“-meets-“Starship Troopers” plot that has Cruise falling victim to an intergalactic time loop that allows him to die, again and again, on a battlefield against an invading army race. (Emily Blunt is a fellow warrior who has suffered similar effects.)
This is Cruise’s second sci-fi movie in a row, following last year’s big-budget video art installation “Oblivion,” although it remains to be seen whether or not it will follow that film’s somewhat lukewarm box office haul (it grossed less than $90 million domestic, compared to “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’s” more impressive $209 domestic take). The question remains: is it worth your time? Or is this one better suited to lazy TNT Sunday afternoon viewing?
1. Tom Cruise Is Awesome…
Cruise always delivers 110%, even when the movie he’s in isn’t very good (ahem, “Rock of Ages”), but “Edge of Tomorrow” offers the perfect synchronicity of performer and project. Cruise feels looser and more nimble than he has in ages (at least since the last “Mission: Impossible”) and ever single thing that made him a beloved movie star is evident here: his charm, his seemingly boundless charisma, his determination, and his sex appeal. What’s more, he’s funny; insanely funny. If you’re under the impression that Tom Cruise ever really went away (he didn’t), then this would be the type of movie that would restore your faith in him. He’s that amazing.
2. …But Emily Blunt Is Even Better
Emily Blunt is one of those actresses who seems to toil away in promising-seeming movies that have never delivered her that star-making role. They were probably projects that seemed like a good idea at the time, like “The Five-Year Engagement” and “The Wolf Man,” and Blunt is perfectly good in all of them… But her star has never been able to shine like it should… until now. Blunt is absolutely out of this world as the female warrior who was similarly unstuck in time and she radiates positivity, warmth, and an inner strength. We’ve been devoid of strong female characters this summer — all of them have either been victims or villains — and Blunt makes up for that handily. She is the heart and soul of “Edge of Tomorrow.”
3. Industrial Light & Magic Outdoes Itself
Industrial Light & Magic, the visual effects house that George Lucas created for the original “Star Wars,” has been responsible for the most consistently jaw-dropping movie magic in the past few decades (among them: “Pacific Rim” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies). But these wizards have really outdone themselves with their work in “Edge of Tomorrow.” They conjure forth seemingly limitless vistas that are full of soldiers battling monsters that are a tornado of teeth and tentacles (more on them in a minute). It’s all hyper-real stuff, grittily conceptualized, with actors interacting with unreal creations with an unparalleled level of mastery. You literally cannot believe your eyes.
4. It’s Not That Confusing
The premise for “Edge of Tomorrow” seems to be a major sticking point for people, but the movie really isn’t that confusing, although if I were to explain it here, then it would be pretty unclear. Basically, Cruise plays a PR flak who joined the military’s promotional team when the war with the monsters broke out. He’s conned into joining the troops in the European campaign (mercifully, the United States is left out of all the destruction). When in battle, he accidentally ingests some of the monsters’ blood. The monsters have the power to “reset” the day, and pass that power onto Cruise. So that’s why every time he dies he is instantly reborn. It’s what he chooses to do with that power that is really interesting. Can he change the tide of the war? Or will he just be doomed to an infinite time loop? Therein lies the spills, chills, and thrills of “Edge of Tomorrow.” Simple enough, right?
5. The Monsters Are Pretty Cool
The monsters are a Lovecraftian lump of fangs and techno-mechanical tentacles. At one point you see a pretty good 3D model of them, and they are identically fearsome, just not in the traditional sense (or the recent, buggy, “Cloverfield” model — like the MUTOs in “Godzilla”). They’ve even got a cool name — they’re called the Mimics. Why they’re called the Mimics? Well, that was probably lost in some long ago script draft. But the name is still neat. So that’s what matters.
6. Bill Paxton Returns!
For the second time in as many months, Bill Paxton has a starring role in a fairly sizable summer movie. But whereas “Million Dollar Arm” had the actor deliberately underplaying, “Edge of Tomorrow” allows him to chew scenery with reckless abandon. Paxton plays the drill sergeant who comes down hard on Cruise and his band of misfit soldiers. It’s been a while since Paxton has been able to ham it up like this (well, OK, I guess last summer’s “2 Guns” wasn’t exactly a subtle performance) and it is great to see him back in top form. I’d let Paxton yell obscenities at me any day.
7. It’s Original Name Was Way Better
Unlike most of the summer movie offerings this year, “Edge of Tomorrow” isn’t based on a video game or comic book. Instead, it’s based on a Japanese “light novel” called “All You Need Is Kill,” which is what the movie was originally called. That is the coolest name ever. “Edge of Tomorrow” is not. It’s another anonymous sci-fi movie title. “All You Need Is Kill” is just the best.
8. Structurally, It’s Pretty Ambitious
Doug Liman, the filmmaker behind “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and the first “Bourne Identity,” directed “Edge of Tomorrow,” but in some ways it’s much closer to his independent features that were more ambitious, structurally and on a narrative level, like the wonderful “Go.” “Edge of Tomorrow” has a very unique rhythm that, even if it follows the typical three-act structure, has a lot of wiggle room for odd narrative tics and structural adventurousness.
9. It’s the Best Summer Movie So Far
This summer has been pretty light on dogs, at least so far, but “Edge of Tomorrow” is easily the best of the bunch, and in some ways sets the bar ridiculously high for the rest of the summer. Maybe because “Edge of Tomorrow” was such a surprise that it was even more powerful; whatever the reason, it totally rocks.
10. You’re Going to Want to Watch It Over and Over Again
The way that the movie is “tracking” (indicators for what kind of money it’s going to pull in this weekend), it looks like “Edge of Tomorrow” might not make much money, at least in the opening weekend. (The following weekend, there’s every possibility that it will get pulverized by two much more well-known brands: “22 Jump Street” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”) But that doesn’t really matter. The movie is such a well-crafted gem that people are going to love it, and watch it over and over and over again.
Photo courtesy Warner Bros.