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Monday, October 6, 2014

Taking Something Old and Making it New: Edge of Tomorrow

When I saw Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise, I knew I wanted to do a review on it. If you haven't seen the movie I would advise you not to see any trailers or read any synopses etc. for it. In fact, you may not even want to read this review. Just go watch the thing (it comes out on DVD this Tuesday in the U.S.) because it will make the concept and little twists of the story that much more awesome--at least it did for me. Basically all I knew when I saw the movie was that it had Tom Cruise, it had to do with fighting aliens, and something with time. So when I saw the movie, I was blown away. But perhaps the best thing the film does is that it takes familiar concepts we've already seen (seen too many times) and finds a way to put a little twist on them to make them fresh. In this review, I'll try to talk about that without giving too many surprises away.

Okay, so Edge of Tomorrow is an alien invasion story. Another one. We've all seen multiple alien invasion movies, I'm sure. I can probably name at least five at any given time. This movie is an alien invasion story from a military stand point. Yup, seen those before. All those movies usually happen in New York or L.A., New York or L.A. Well, the first refreshing thing about Edge of Tomorrow is that it takes place in Europe, so already we have a fresh setting to play with. The opening war scene happens on a beach in Europe. Okay, I haven't seen that before.

The next thing that struck me was the protagonist. Over the last several years, I've been thinking about how all the protagonists I've seen are brave and self-sacrificing--wonderful qualities to have, and there's a reason main characters have those qualities, but those traits are feeling a little old to me. I loved that. for once, the protagonist in Edge of Tomorrow was a straight up coward who only wanted to save himself.

It can be dangerous introducing a character on those terms, because it usually makes the character unlikable for the audience. We don't like rooting for people who are cowards and self-focused, but Tom Cruise was so convincing that I could feel the fear of his character enough to have empathy for him. But really, one of the reasons the writer got away with showing off these negative traits at the beginning is because Tom Cruise is immediately and quite literally forced onto a battlefield. He's a fish out of water. He doesn't know how to fight, but he has to in order to survive--and he has a very strong drive to survive.

In fact, the opening of the movie was more engrossing and more thrilling because Tom Cruise was an inexperienced coward. He has no clue how to use the military weapons. He doesn't know any of the other soldiers. He's an American caught up in European army. And he's thrust into a battle on the beach against impossible aliens. He can't even figure out how to get the safety off his weapon to defend himself.

Have you ever seen a coward in the midst of battle who can't even fire his weapon in self-defense--the one thing that is most important to him? I haven't. And it was brilliant! And his character development from there, the way it plays into the plot, is genius. Spoiler alert, he's terrified of dying and yet he is forced to die a hundred times. For the most part, he only wants to run away and save himself, and yet he becomes the only person who can save everyone else. Those contradictions are gold!

Okay, next, the aliens. I've seen aliens so many times, and I have to take a second and admire all the filmmakers in Hollywood who go to great lengths to make their aliens different than the aliens we've already seen. The speed, the way the Edge of Tomorrow aliens moved, it was just new enough for me to love it. But they gave the aliens an ability I've never seen aliens have before: power over time.

Seriously? How the heck are you supposed to beat aliens who can turn back time whenever they lose a battle? How do you even fight that? How the freak do you even beat that? The idea was killer. It was a fresh twist, combining two concepts I was familiar with to create something new. The movie was based off a manga, and thank you to whoever wrote it because I loved that concept.

Then, I just want to express how awesome that opening battle scene was. It was awesome, in large part, simply because I've been trying to get a better eye for action scenes, and I am, and I was excited to actually see that I'm getting to a point where I can marvel over one action scene more than another. I was able to pay attention to what the writers brought to the action scene, how they played with the sandy beach as a setting, how they played with Tom Cruise's inadequacies to ramp up tension, how they played with surprise, how they played with the alien's body, movement, and abilities, and how they played with other character's expertise. I loved it.

I also liked how the writers managed to fit in moments of humor that didn't take away from the main story. The day before I saw Edge of Tomorrow, I watched a movie called Saratov Approach, and I could tell the writers of the latter went a little out of the way to try to fit humor into it. Not only did the humor take away from the main focus of the story, but it was unnecessary. But Edge of Tomorrow got the humor in organically because it simply came with the main concept.

In closing, I've only honestly talked about the tip of the iceberg. This is just the starting of the movie. But I loved it, and I thought it was well done, beautifully written, fresh, great characters and character arcs, pinch points, and a satisfying ending. So if you like sci-fi and aliens, I'd definitely recommend it.

For the writers reading this, go study this stuff. Look at how the filmmakers gave us a fresh character, and put him in a contradictory role to make his story fascinating, look at how they combined concepts people were familiar with to make something fresh, and notice how the shift in setting breathes a little more life into the worn concept of an alien invasion.


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