June 10, 2014

Podcast Episode 17: Dangling From The EDGE OF TOMORROW

Against all odds, Tom Cruise seems to have found himself as the underdog of the summer.

I almost feel sorry for Cruise at this point.  The guy's personal life could be generously described as "suspect," and more bluntly described as "nine kinds of crazy."  He's certainly toned down his behavior since famously jumping up and down on Oprah's couch and subsequently arguing with Matt Lauer about the evils of psychiatry, but that shit stays with people and makes it hard to distinguish his on screen performance from his off screen antics.  I get it but I don't agree with it, mostly because I couldn't give less of a shit what an actor does in his personal life short of committing a crime.  Cruise can believe in all the Thetans and Xenus he wants and I'll still go see him in the theater so long as he keeps giving layered and compelling performances.  And rest assured that despite his advancing years, Tom Cruise has not lost a step.  Sure he might not disappear into a role like some of his peers, but the guy still has undeniable charisma and is the living embodiment of sheer, blunt-force entertainment.

In truth, it's been a while since he had a resounding box office success outside of the Mission: Impossible franchise.  But he hasn't been solely responsible for any huge bombs either, leaving him as one of the few stars left whose mere presence can bring just about any movie he wants a guaranteed green light.  (Will Smith is still being dragged kicking and screaming out of this club.)  Personally, I love that Cruise is utilizing his star power to make interesting, thought-provoking sci-fi spectacles.  It's like we can see his inner nerd showing, and that's incredibly endearing to me.  Last summer Cruise starred in Oblivion, a visual feast that proved to be mostly empty calories.  But I at least appreciated the effort.  Based on the somewhat lackluster marketing, you'd be forgiven for writing off this summer's unfortunately titled Edge Of Tomorrow as simply more of the same.  You would, however, be wrong.

Edge Of Tomorrow, which can essentially be boiled down to "Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers" is a surprising amount of fun.  Cruise brings a lot of depth to the role of William Cage, a military PR shill who's been drafted into service against an alien horde and gains the ability to relive the day of an epic D-Day-esque battle over and over again.  But he's nothing without Emily Blunt's Rita Vrataski, a.k.a. The Angel Of Verdun, a.k.a. The Full Metal Bitch.  How big of a badass is she?  She carries a sword made out of a helicopter blade.  Yeah.   Cruise is good, but it's Blunt who really elevates the proceedings, crafting a character whose hardened exterior protects a bruised psyche and a shattered history.  We learn very few real facts about her, but every glimpse we get is utterly fascinating and leaves the audience wanting more.  The same can be said of the film's setting.  Much like Vrataski, we don't get to see a whole lot of life outside the embattled beaches of France, but director Doug Liman has managed to craft a world that feels lived in and left me curious about the events happening off screen.  What would be going on in the States during the collapse of Europe?  I imagine there would be more than a few refugees taking up residence...

Most importantly, the time loops are extremely well executed, utilizing repetition to great effect both in terms of action and humor.  Much like Bryan Singer in Days Of Future Past, Liman is able to mine a lot of fun out of the ability to keep killing his characters in violent and surprising ways and then resetting the clock to bring them back for more.  Many have been quick (and correct) to praise the film for perfectly capturing the feeling of playing a video game in which you have to learn the enemy's movements by rote memory, frequently fucking it all up and committing suicide in order to start over.  You might think that would grow dull after a while, but the script by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez & John-Henry Butterworth keeps the audience smartly off balance, never allowing us to be sure whether we're seeing Cage perform some task for the first time or the 37th time.

I've seen a lot of criticism for the film's ending, and while I think it's a fairly big miscalculation, it's not enough to completely derail the film.  The word of mouth is overwhelmingly positive, and yet Edge Of Tomorrow finished a distant third in its opening weekend behind YA sensation The Fault In Our Stars and Disney's Maleficent.  Those target audiences are certainly very different demographics, and yet with 22 Jump Street and Transformers looming on the horizon, it seems all but certain that Tom Cruise's latest will at most be regarded a minor success.  That's a shame.  It deserves much better.

Episode 17 of the podcast features myself, Bart and Jamie chatting about all things Edge Of Tomorrow, including Tom Cruise fatigue, Emily Blunt badassery, fully realized action hero homo-eroticism and the film's somewhat nonsensical ending.  We also discuss the apparent conclusion of the Ant-Man director drama, Josh Trank joining the Star Wars universe, the merits of the Wachowskis and the feminist failings of Stripes.

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