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'Edge of Tomorrow' is exactly what a summer blockbuster should be

Edge of Tomorrow

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Tom Cruise is the ultimate movie star. There can simply be no more denying of this fact. Whatever couch-jumping antics Americans desire to forcefully remain branded upon their brains when they see him can just once and for all dissipate, because this wrongful shaming of a truly gifted and magnificent star has gone on long enough. Let us just all agree that he is a fantastic actor and able to carry the weight single-handedly of any movie, gigantic or small scale, and let bygones be bygones, shall we?

Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt
Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise and Emily BluntWarner Brothers

There, now that that is out of the way...

Edge of Tomorrow is the most thrilling, engaging, exciting action movie that has come out in quite some time, certainly the best of this current year. And in the unending onslaught of action flicks, it can be overwhelming to know what is worth seeing and what should be skipped (Transformers: Age of Extinction, Divergent, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Godzilla, 300: Rise of an Empire, 3 Days to Kill, Non-stop, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Robocop, Pompeii, I, Frankenstein, Need For Speed, Noah, Ride Along, ...and that's JUST SO FAR in 2014...only three of those movies are actually good—can you guess which ones?).

There is a level of evenness to the whole arch of the motion picture that really keeps one's attention in a manner that generally loses audiences when films within the genre stray towards too many explosions or not enough character development as they are greatly wont to do. Here, the acting delivered is so strong, there is absolutely no trouble with suspension of disbelief. Tom Cruise is in a reoccurring time loop where he fights aliens in a D-day like war scene, dies, and wakes up only to do it all over again? Done. Emily Blunt is an experienced fighter who readily welcomes the confused and eager-to-learn Cruise in winding their way through this time-bending nightmare? Sold. The two of them are immediately bonded in the viewers' eyes, and through subtlety of honed acting skill and efficiency of the tightly-written screenplay, there is absolutely no mental stretch needed to buy anything and everything this film decides to throw its audience's way? Yes.

The thing about Mr. Cruise is that he is keenly aware of himself as well as the way he presents himself to others. This is a skill he has developed through the scraping public eye in his real life, but nowhere more deftly than in his onscreen persona. "Tom Cruise" as a brand is something with which all movie-going audiences are more or less at least a little, if not very, familiar. His chiseled, ageless, game for anything, tenacity is an unstoppable force that struck a chord with the general public back in the early days of Risky Business and Top Gun and all the way down through the years since. The moment his $50 million grin appears onscreen, you know you're in for a wild ride and whatever it is, wherever it leads, you want to be taken there and have no problem doing so.

What makes Edge of Tomorrow stand out among others of Cruise's films is that he does not just rest on the laurels of this built-in, ready-made, carefully crafted persona. His character, Major William Cage, who is experiencing the frustrating, time-looping madness is not exactly what one would call a go-getter. He is timid, unsuspecting, and not thrilled to be placed in the heat of battle (especially as his identity has been changed/mistaken and he is suddenly known as a deserter private). Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) is strong, strident almost, in her level of confidence. But Blunt too is a master of her craft. Blunt could potentially be called something of an indie darling, and at first glace (or in the hands of a lesser adept actress) one may not see someone such as she to play this role in such a broad-scoped, larger than life action extravaganza. But she brings the necessary subtlety to add heft to her character, and it works sublimely to increase the overall picture's verisimilitude and enjoyability.

What is also delightful about watching these two muddle through their desperate situation is that neither one is really the dominant force. Clearly, Vrataski is the experienced fighter, and she knows her way around a battlefield (she is known among the soldiers as "the Angel of Verdun" having defeated many of the aliens in a past battle there). But she comes across neither as pompous nor naïve, shrill nor aggressive. Her femininity is not overtly sexual, but nor is it sublimated. And Cage is not viewed as weak or emasculated simply because he is not the front-lines-fighter type. There is a real balance between the two of them, a genuine yin and yang that is refreshing to see onscreen; their dynamic as a team, as a woman and a man, and simply as fellow human beings facing unimaginable odds is all very modern, balanced, and stable. And the sexual tension and chemistry is also tackled with aplomb, as it is somewhat gently bubbling beneath the surface, but not at all distracting and never really actualized, which for the sake of the overall story, works beautifully in the film's favor. That is not to say that love stories detract from action films, but in this particular story they were telling, it had no place. And it was lovely to see the filmmakers realize that and not try to force anything just for the sake of aggrandizement or Hollywoodization. The duo's onscreen chemistry is electric, and their dynamic to work as one in saving the world is mission-focused, rather than distracted. It is exactly the kind of gender equity much longed for in many a story throughout the ages.

The film never set out to be some sort of statement, however, which makes its execution that much more brilliant. It is clearly apparent that the filmmakers, director Doug Liman, writers Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, stars Cruise and Blunt, and everyone else involved were all simply working to make a solid, fun, exciting movie. It does not have that feeling like others of its ilk that they're solely focused on grossing the top dollar on the opening weekend; it's simply a really fun movie! The special effects are very well effectuated, and they are not distracting or overly used. The aliens are a very strange amalgamation of creatures throughout cinema history, yet somehow seem not exactly like anything seen before.

Another really excellent quality to the script and execution thereof is that there is a real sense of humor present that keeps a general lightness surrounding the viewing experience where other films tend to sway towards depressing levels of utterly incessant world demolition by the end (i.e. Star Trek Into Darkness), which can lead to a dissonant viewing experience and be quite fatiguing. As explosive and violent as certain scenes in the film are, there is also a felt sense that the storytellers realize the impact of such loss of life and annihilation, so there are many great scenes of lighthearted fun, whether they are one-liners from Cruise or other excellent supporting cast members, like Brendan Gleeson and Bill Paxton, or hushed, reflective moments on a farm or tranquil quietude before another alien attack. There is a felt sensibility that the violence is not senseless; the loss of life is valued, and the humor is not inserted to disguise this reality, but rather to remind the audience of the innate humanness within the characters. Plus, no one delivers a suave one-liner better than Cruise.

It is most meet that this review be published today, as it is Tom Cruise's 52nd Birthday (he was almost quite literally Born on the Fourth of July (another great performance, one for which he most definitely should have won the Oscar)); in that light, one final adoring mention must be made, as it was a flabbergasting reality one can hardly get over whilst watching the film—how on earth does he still look that good at 52?! Happy Birthday, Mr. Cruise. Bravo!