Last week I attended a footage reveal for the upcoming sci-fi action flick Edge of Tomorrow. I don’t usually do these things, because they’re pure PR and I try not to whore for the studios. I mean, you can’t even pretend to offer anything like an honest review of a movie when you’ve seen only a small part of it, so everything I can offer here, positive or negative, must be hedged with “but I could be wrong; we’ll know when we see the actual film” and “I can’t say for sure without seeing the whole movie.”
So why did I attend this event? Well, I’m really hopeful for this one: it’s from director Doug Liman, who makes action movies for people who don’t want to have to turn their brains off, which is a rare thing. And I’m such a geek for science fiction that the chance to open this particular present early was too good to pass up.
That may have been a mistake, though, because what I saw was a good kind of tease, and I want the rest of the movie now. But I have to wait. *arrgh*
So how this thing worked is like this: Maybe around 200 journalists and critics showed up at a multiplex in central London. They fed us nibbles (but no booze, since it was before noon), and then we went into one of the big cinemas to watch about 25 minutes of the movie: not 25 consecutive minutes, it was apparent once it got going. We weren’t give any information about this: it could be that the first 15 minutes or so were consecutive, but after that it jumped around a lot. Or else Liman has made a mess of a movie (which I don’t think is the case, of course). Then Liman came out for a Q&A with the crowd, which lasted about a half hour.
(I’ll try not to reveal anything that could be construed as a spoiler, though that’s sorta hard to determine without, you know, having seen the whole film. Just about the first thing Liman said to us afterward, though, was that he was surprised at what they showed us, and that it might have been a little bit too much. I’m surprised that he doesn’t seem to have been consulted on what footage was revealed! But I am being extra careful here. Liman himself said something at the Q&A that seemed super spoilerish to me, and I am certainly not going to pass that along.)
The footage opened with an introduction from Tom Cruise, speaking directly into the camera to us; he stars in the film as a soldier who gets caught in some sort of time loop and keeps reliving the same day over and over again. Of course movie stars like Cruise are very good at PR patter, and of course he had only wildly enthusiastic things to say about the film and his experience making it. That said, however, he didn’t seem to have been reading off a teleprompter, and there were enough hesitations and scrambling for words that I think he was genuine. (The flip side of having heard a shit-ton of celebrity PR patter is that you know it when you hear it. And I didn’t hear it from him here. In fact, he seemed more human than I think I’ve ever seen him before offscreen, so to speak.) I mostly like Cruise as an actor and the enormous appeal of his screen presence is undeniable — there’s a reason why he’s a huge movie star — but I don’t think he’s a good enough actor to have been faking what we saw in his intro.
And then the footage from the film started… and there’s another pleasant surprise from Cruise: his character is not at all what we might have been expecting in the protagonist of a big-budget sci-fi action flick. He’s not a badass: he’s a chicken. When we meet him, he’s wearing handcuffs — he’s clearly a military prisoner — and he is doing his damnedest to lie his way out of being sent into battle. In the Q&A, Liman talked about how he worked with Cruise to “come up with a character he hasn’t played before,” and how they ended up with a guy who is “is a coward all the way through” the film. Liman also extolled the virtues of Cruise’s talent for squealing. Which we didn’t get to see at all, so I’ll be looking for that in the final film. Liman mentioned that Cruise is “willing to try things he’s never done before,” and that, as an actor, he gets to be even more adventurous with his image than we got to see in the footage.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, as I did, whether Cruise really isn’t too old to be playing a combat soldier — he’s in his 50s, and we don’t usually send men that old into battle as grunts, and we probably won’t even when we get around to inventing power armor — the footage we saw hints at a certain desperation in humanity. Our war with the invading aliens doesn’t seem to be going well: the day that Cruise’s character keeps waking up to starts with him on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport, which has been turned into a military staging ground for an invasion of France. In the footage, we saw a few iterations of the battle that Cruise cannot escape, and it’s like starship troopers re-enacting D-Day. It looks cool, but the undertone to it is literally chilling, because it makes this science-fiction war feel very familiar and not very fantastical at all.
We got a look at the aliens, and they seem to be more alien that movies usually manage. They’re not humanoid, not insectoid, not reptilian. They’re truly alien. (I just hope they’re not here for our water.)
Liman told us, though, that he “was not making a movie about an alien invasion.” So what is it about? Well, “repeating the day brings out a lot of character issues,” he said, so maybe this will be an interesting character study. The time-loop thing certainly has potential to work as a metaphor for PTSD, though it appears that — with the help of badass soldier Emily Blunt — the Cruise character is going to be working at getting better at what he’s doing over the course of this day. And mastering the day rather than being defeated by it would seem a positive, empowering thing, not a traumatic one. I hope there’s more to it than a videogame metaphor, the other obvious direction this could go in.
I was just a teensy bit disappointed to hear Liman say that he thinks he has made “a love story.” Because… really? Is the only reason Blunt is here as a badass soldier is so Cruise can fall in love with her? And her with him? Cuz that might suck. Liman talked a lot about how “people expect such a formulaic thing from Hollywood” yet he is always trying to “break the mold” and “be as contrary as I possibly [can]” and not “make a cookie cutter movie,” but this love-story nonsense sounds like the same old shit. (Contrary to apparently prevalent male belief, most women are not irresistibly drawn to you, gentlemen, and are not falling helplessly and hopelessly in love with you.)
Of course, I’m reserving judgment till I see the entire film.
About the title change, from All You Need Is Kill — the title of the Japanese novel this is based on (it’s not a manga, as seems to be a mistaken belief around the Net) — Liman says that that was never going to be his title. It would be “way too dark” for the film, which he says is more humorous than was hinted at by the footage we saw. What we saw was pretty relentlessly grim, and it’s hard to imagine from what we did see where the humor will fit in, however, unless it’s some fairly black humor.
I am satisfied, though, that Edge of Tomorrow is not going to be Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day, which is kinda what the premise and the trailer made it look and sound like.
Of course, I could be wrong about that…