Friday, June 06, 2014

Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Over at Strange Horizons, I review the Tom Cruise time travel movie Edge of Tomorrow, a film that I thought was just terrible but which seems to be getting good reviews from all other quarters, which I honestly find quite baffling.  It's starting to feel a little like being the only reviewer not blown away by Looper, but where Looper had some genuine strong points (not least, recognizing that just because the male lead wants Emily Blunt to save him doesn't mean that's all she's got going on in her life, a fact of which Edge of Tomorrow remains sadly ignorant), Edge of Tomorrow is merely a competently made action film that squanders everything potentially interesting or thought-provoking about its premise and characters.

Incidentally, between watching the film and writing my review I decided to read the original novel, All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, just to get a sense of how big the gap between the two is (answer: not great in general but pretty huge in certain points).  It's not a great book by any stretch, but it's a quick read, and a hell of a lot more interesting than the movie in its handling of its premise, its world, and its characters (in particular, the relationship between the male and female leads is a lot more equitable, though the other female characters are often problematic).  If anything good comes out of Edge of Tomorrow it will be to call attention to Haikasoru and its project to bring Japanese SF to Anglophone audiences, and All You Need Is Kill is a good place to start.

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RF said...

The concept of a group of aliens who have supreme powers of mimicry and who can think of nothing better to do with them than essentially reenact the Second World War is really kind of sweet. It's like what they're actually trying to do is cheer us up by letting us participate in our most obsessed-over nostalgic fantasy, and they just don't understand that the resulting deaths are real.

Also, how strange to encounter SF that plays "bug-brained aliens, uncomplicated evil, you have to kill the queen" straight. Orson Scott Card still has what's left of this trope's head tied to his shield. It's hard to think of a deader SF idea that isn't being played as satirically retro.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

The concept of a group of aliens who have supreme powers of mimicry and who can think of nothing better to do with them than essentially reenact the Second World War is really kind of sweet.

Yes, quite. It's really quite disorienting - you start the film with news footage of an alien invasion, and then suddenly it's "the aliens have conquered Germany and France!" Um, what? That it's said with such a straight face - as if no one in the film (which appears to take place in the not at all distant future) recognizes the historical parallels - is what truly makes it art.

The book, by the way, actually does give a fairly compelling explanation of who the aliens are and what they want, and a semi-plausible justification for its choice to plump for the mindless evil approach (the aliens are actually semi-organic terraforming robots created by a distant expansionist alien civilization). It actually didn't have to do this - it's so locked into its protagonist's head, and its stakes are so much lower (no one in the book is going to save the world in the immediate future) that you don't find yourself wondering about the aliens that much. But Sakurazaka takes the time to invent a coherent explanation where the film plumps for inanities.

Dragonchild said...

Aw, crap, this was disconcerting. I was all ready to give this movie a go when it got sci-fi/fantasy reviewer extraordinaire SLW's endorsement over at Pajiba ( SLW likened the movie more to a comedic take (and eventual dramatic emergence) of an unforgiving video game and emerged with a much more favorable opinion. Video games have whatever passes for some sort of "inward sociopathy", for want of a better term -- whether or not you become emotionally invested in the other characters, as the protagonist you view yourself as expendable. It's not a martyr complex so much as you know you have infinite chances so you're going to keep masochistically marching Mario into bottomless pits until he gets the jumps just right. The chauvanism and dudebro-ness are unfortunate but they really come part and parcel with the "first person shooter" genre, along with obligatory WW2 references. That may make a mockery of the novel it's based on, but it may be the intended context.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

That's a persuasive reading (certainly more persuasive than the argument that the film has a compelling plot and characters, per SLW's review, which I honestly just don't get). I rather doubt that it's the intended one - I certainly wouldn't have thought to describe Edge of Tomorrow as humorous; it's in fact one of the more po-faced films I've seen in some time, and that extends to what feels to me like an obvious expectation that the audience will be invested in Cage's antics (and in the future of the film's world) from the first moment.

Dragonchild said...

Well, if nothing else, you get to see Tom Cruise die horribly over and over again.

Anonymous said...

The movie just turned up on Netflix. Having watched it, I would like to second the opinion that much of it comes across as a somewhat dark, deadpan comedy. Not always a successful one, I'll grant you, but it got a few amused-eyeroll moments from me at the very least. Rita's matter-of-factly way of shooting Cage in the head whenever she decides that the iteration is beyond saving, in complete disregard for his obvious discomfort with it, was kind of hilarious, for one.

But yeah, the book was better. It's less in love with its protagonist, for a start.

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