Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Edge of Your Seat

I'm pausing again in my recounting of last week's Yellowstone adventures to talk about a more recent entertainment from this past weekend. I went to catch up on a new movie I'd missed when it opened, Edge of Tomorrow. I remember being rather uninterested in the film when I first saw a trailer for it many months ago. "Sci-fi Groundhog Day" didn't sound like a particularly inspired premise. But that changed in the press blitz leading up to the release.

Once I'm on board with a piece of entertainment -- once I've decided to see a movie, read a book, watch a TV show, whatever -- I generally want a total embargo of information about it. Movies are the hardest in this regard, because you always catch trailers running before other movies you go to see, and trailers these days always give away the whole game. But in this case, it happened that giving away one crucial piece of the plot is what sparked my interest: the explanation of why the main character is reliving the same day over and over again. I'll keep the secret in case you wouldn't want to know, but it's probably enough to say that there is an explanation, it makes sense, and it's revealed very early in the story.

Buy in to that, and you're in for a pretty good ride. Edge of Tomorrow is a generally well-written film. It has lots of exhilarating action, but makes room for plot and character. It also has a fair amount of deftly deployed humor; with time looping removing some sense of stakes, it's only logical to play things for comedy some of the time.

Tom Cruise is his kinetic self, but his character William Cage is more entertaining to watch than usual, with a natural arc toward badass (rather than starting there). Emily Blunt plays Rita Vrataski, a tough soldier who previously had the time-looping power Cage now possesses. In an uncharacteristically feminist setup for a summer blockbuster, she's the experienced mentor. Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson also appear, but it's the nature of the story that their limited characters don't develop in any interesting way.

Overall, the movie is worth recommending. But it does make a couple of missteps -- and unfortunately makes them in fairly crucial places. The opening sequence is a weak exposition dump montage that ham-fistedly provides the context for the story. There's also a particular moment in the second act seems to compromise the integrity of Blunt's powerful, mission-oriented character a bit.

And then there's the ending. It's impossible to say why it doesn't work without spoiling it, but suffice it to say it makes no sense. You can Google "Edge of Tomorrow ending" to find dozens of people struggling mightily to rationalize it, but the bottom line is this: this is a big summer action movie starring Tom Cruise, and it feels like the studio stepped in to mandate a type of ending you can eat popcorn to. (Rather than one tonally consistent with the film, or, you know, logical.)

Usually, failure to stick the landing can doom a film. But in this case, the style and substance of the journey makes the destination less important. I give Edge of Tomorrow a B+. But with the right ending, I can't help but wonder if the movie might have been Top 100 List material. If only they had a do-over.

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