I think a lot about the basis of the critic’s job. A critic’s job is to find the director’s purpose and judge how well the director succeeded in achieving that goal. Many would say that putting any value judgments on whether that goal was worth achieving is beyond the purview of a critic and while I can understand the logic of that position, I also reject it. Films by their very nature have a limited range of things they can do–they can make a single point. They cannot fully flesh out characters or build deep plots–they have to use characters and plots to make points, and they have to do it quickly. When a film does not understand that, I think it’s right to criticize it. I think it’s fair to punt on making judgments about whether a film’s point is “right” or not, because that question is so unrelated to whether the film achieved its goal.
A number of films I have watched this year were films I criticized for “not trying,” by which I mean that they did not have a point but rather were just the end results of massive marketing campaigns to get, as my favorite undergraduate film professor used to bluntly put it, “asses in the seats.” Edge of Tomorrow, a film with two major stars, a big budget, and more than its share of special effects was a film that clearly had the potential to fall into that category. And it did fall into that trap–it was a film without a point. However, it did a much better job of failing than, say, Neil Burger’s last film. I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re going to make a pointless film, this is how to do it.
The plot is not terribly complicated, in spit of involving time travel: During a future war with an alien invasion force, a soldier accidentally gains the aliens’ generally-unknown power to restart “the day” (It actually appears to be more than a day, but that’s the way they say it.) and live it over again until his death. He of course finds a hot, badass female soldier who helps him try to use this power to win the war and along the way he falls in love with her. It’s not terribly complicated and it’s even rather conventional. The film is rife with references to other time-travel films and has more similarities to Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, USA 1993) than could be explained from simple plot similarity, which suggests that Liman and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth were well aware of their own conventionality. It’s not an outright comedy, but the references and self-awareness give the film a lightness that makes its conventions easier to forgive than with a more self-serious film. Also, for all its conventionality, the film has more than its share of good laughs–they’re not too telegraphed or unoriginal to work, which is a surprise for a film that is otherwise so lacking in originality or surprise.
Dion Beebe and Limon follow much the same path visually–it’s conventional and doesn’t stand out at all, but it never embarrasses itself. Yeah, there’s a lot of CGI, but the CGI is mostly used to create creatures that are supposed to look unrealistic, a gambit that allows the silly cartoons not to look quite so silly. It’s the same type of rather washed-out blue-heavy color palette that we see in most futuristic and “science-y” movies, and it doesn’t do much that draws attention to what it’s doing. The reason those conventions exist is because they work at least somewhat well, so following them is not the worst thing in the world.
The only person who really gets a chance to act is Tom Cruise, and he really shines in this performance. I often think that we’ve been somewhat cheated out of a good actor by the fact that Cruise has been a star for his entire career and so has never had to use the considerable talent he brings to the table, but this film was a good example of what he can do when he wants to–the look of fear on his face when he’s told he’s being sent to the front and the way he sells his feeling of being out of place as he walks into the barracks are moments that alone show you that he can act, and he does much the same throughout the film. However, oddly, Emily Blunt gets the star entrance–we hear about her legend and see her picture several times before she finally shows up, and then we see her only in silhouette a few times and then only her sword (Yes, a sword) at first. She doesn’t really get anything to do in the film, essentially playing a cold, collected soldier with no real depth, so her acting really isn’t noticeable. She seems to have an oddly inconsistent accent (odd because Blunt is actually English and the film is set in England and what little we know about her would suggest she is English, and yet she seems to be affecting an American accent most of the time), but it’s not a huge deal.
Overall, this is a simplistic, pointless film–but at least it’s a simplistic, pointless film that does what it wants to do well. It’s fun to watch, the performances and visuals are good enough, and it has some good, intentional laughs. That’s more than can be said for some films, and enough to make it worth watching once if it sounds like it would interest you at all.
- The Omega looked just enough like the Nestene Consciousness that it was all I could think of.
- When Rita walks out with her sword in hand, she looks like she walked in from Final Fantasy XIII. I can’t be the only one who had that thought.
- Science Hill, Kentucky is actually smaller than where I grew up. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a specific city with a population smaller than where I grew up mentioned in a film before.
- 3D is still a scam–there was nothing at all gained by it.
I also want to encourage visitors to read Ann Hornaday’s review: http://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/movies/edge-of-tomorrow-movie-review-tom-cruise-shows-that-hes-still-got-it/2014/06/05/b3ac5bd6-eb29-11e3-9f5c-9075d5508f0a_story.html
She’s a bit more positive than I am (unsurprisingly), but she goes into more detail about Tom Cruise’s performance, and she’s spot-on about that.
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