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Out in Theaters: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION

For the sake of honesty, I’ll report this: I loved 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol too much. So much so that it earned a slot in my top ten that year. To this day, it’s my favorite of the series and an improbably rewatchable event film. Even with a somewhat spotted past (Mission Impossible 2 is fun though objectively not the greatest film accomplishment), the Mission Impossible franchise is one of my sleeper hit favorites, with the last two entries –  the aforementioned addition from Brad Bird and J.J. Abrams‘ Phillip Seymour Hoffman-starring threequel – delivering some of the series’ absolute best material. When it was announced that Christopher McQuarrie (director of Jack Reacher, screenwriter of Batman & Robin) had mounted the directorial stool for the fifth iteration of Ethan Hunt’s impossible missions, my anticipation shuttered and cautiously withdrew. Read More

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Out in Theaters: EDGE OF TOMORROW

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Since all the Groundhog Dog jokes have already risen, seen their shadow and retreated into the proverbial internet hole, let’s just settle with calling Edge of Tomorrow a slightly derivative but monstrously enjoyable blockbuster. In a time where any project commanding a budget north of 100 million dollars is either dumbed down to the broadest of international audiences or stuffed with pew-pewing superheroes, witnessing this brand of thinking man’s blockbuster illicits nothing short of a deep sigh of relief. It might not have the layers of Inception or the majesty of Avatar but its fleet-footed cadence, wily comic timing and crackerjack combat spectacles makes for one ace summer tentpole.

Adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka‘s popular Japanese manga “All You Need is Kill” (which once shared its name with this film adaptation), Edge sees an alien force invading Europe by way of asteroid-as-shuttle-ship that collides with Earth’s most tested continent. A discord of international new clips cue us into the ensuing chaos breaking loose like hounds of hell off Satan’s leash. As the world rallies to a united cause of defeating this unthinkably strategic force, the odds may never be in their favor.

However the Earthling forces attempt to smite their spindly-armed enemies in this David versus octo-predator Golliath combat ring, human advances are always halted with alarming precision by the preternaturally calculating Mimics. It’s like their adversaries know their every move before they even make them. Let the stank of foreshadow waft over you. Humanity is promptly six miles up shit creek with no paddle, advancing towards a waterfall that plummets towards pee-icicles and their opponents are snickering on the sidelines. Consider the apocalypse uncanceled; mankind faces imminent extinction. But not if Tom Cruise has anything to say about it (*guitar solo*). Still, it takes him a while to get to the point of Earth’s savior.

At first, Cage (Cruise) is nothing but a trumped up army lackey; a cheery filter for CNN-friendly update blurbs, a Buzzfeed of combat propaganda. He’s the door-to-door salesman of joining the army, the Uncle Sam of “We Want You (In a Mech Suit!).” But when he responds to orders to personally cover the front line of the new war effort with a not-so-cunning retort of blackmail, Cage winds up on the receiving end of handcuffs, stripped of his rank and thrown in with the underdog grunts of J Squad. His pissing contest ended with a definitive bitch slap and a lingering mushroom stamp, Cage has all but received a death sentence, which is quickly proffered up on the battlefield. But not before he gets a fat stream of inky alien blood all up in his grills. But this ain’t just any ol’ alien blood, this is Mimic blood; magical, time-traveling Mimic blood.

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Cage dies (a particularly unpleasant death, I would add) and wakes up at the beginning of the day; handcuffed, confused and forced to leap into battle and die all over again. Begin his sentencing to ’93 Bill Murray antics except with more aliens and the pants-shitting knowledge that death is but a pre-destined misstep away. Let’s just say Cage wouldn’t be happily singing along to “Time Warp.”

But as the film transitions into this temporal stasis, director Doug Liman really hits his groove. In repetition, he finds opportunities to impress, integrating elements of comic mistiming in with increasingly impressive combat sequences. As Cage is forced to re-live the experiences of the same day over and over again, Liman is able to weave in moments of comic relief just as naturally as the beautifully choreographed – and often equally amusing – action sequences.

And like any time travel film ought, Liman manages to not take the affairs too seriously, pausing every now and then to fulfill audience skepticism by having Cage fail epically. Seeing Cruise poorly time an escape under a bus and getting chewed to road kill or aping that he doesn’t have a broken leg so he’s not forced to repeat the day by taking a slug to the noggin doesn’t take us out of the moment so much as cement us in it. Memory is imperfect and it’s grossly satisfying to see slight miscalculations lead to the day reboot we become so familiar with.

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As we’ve come to expect, Cruise takes to the mantle of unlikely action hero with gallant aplomb. I mean, the man’s a professional. Step back and watch him work. Though Cage may lack definition as he blooms from green amateur into an improbable hero, his budding relationship with decorated veteran Rita (Emily Blunt) gives us something extra to cheer for. Blunt, for all her yoga-body beauty, is no ingénue. She’s a certifiably hardened BAMF, and goes by the somewhat uncomplimentary tag of “Full Metal Bitch.” With a handle like that (set with a sly tip-of-the-hat to Kubrick) assume that even in a robo-suit, you wouldn’t want to spar with her.  

With a screenplay that might have turned into the brainchild of sub-committee (Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth are all credited screenwriters), it’s a wonder that the plot is as airtight as it is. Sure, there’s elements that may not stand up to the test of vehement scrutiny (particularly the somewhat indecipherable ending bits) but the yarn is engrossing enough and staged with just the right amount of ludicrous maneuvering to allow us to overlook them without much complaint. After all, seeing Cruise and Blunt strapped into mech suits and storming a nest of whirling dervish is all you really need. Well, that and kill.

B+

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Mech Suit Tom Cruise Groundhog Daying It in EDGE OF TOMORROW Trailer

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If Groundhog Day was a sci-fi action flick, it would look something like the newly released trailer for Bourne director Doug Liman’s film Edge of Tomorrow. Tom Cruise will find himself living the same day over and over again, amidst some sort of alien war, increasing his skills a little bit at a time. The basic premise is nothing new as four or five Star Trek episodes come immediately to mind. But depending on how Liman approaches the subject matter, this looks to have great potential.

 

The trailer calls back a newly re-popularized Blomkampesque aesthetic, which creates a sort of gritty, dystopian feel, similar to the original Terminator. Instead of being attacked, it seems that the humans are the invaders. Having only a small glimpse of the aliens in the trailer, leads us to think that either Liman is saving it all for the big screen, or trying to deliberately draw attention to the propagandic dehumanization of the aliens, similar to Starship Troopers.  

No matter what point the film tries to make, this plot is nothing new. Tom Cruise will live this day repeatedly, until he kicks ass. Hopefully, the film draws out some social commentary and doesn’t just turn into a dumb action movie. But until it’s release on June 6, 2014, we can only guess. 

Edge of Tomorrow is directed by Doug Liman and stars Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and Bill Paxton. It hits theaters June 6, 2014.