Edge of Tomorrow – a review

Now, I knew I came in here for something...

Now, I knew I came in here for something…

When an insurmountable alien horde invade planet Earth and threaten to wipe out humanity itself, who else would be fighting our corner than perennially youthful action hero Tom Cruise. Along with an, it must be said, impressive Emily Blunt, TC goes all out to beat the invading force as he pushes himself right to the very Edge of Tomorrow.

This is an all out sci-fi, time travel action spectacular. And it’s just that. Spectacular. Computer generated special effects have certainly come a long way over the past couple of decades and this is as fine a showcase of their intricate detail as a means to completely disarm an audience and propel them face first into the world of suspended disbelief as we’ve seen in recent years. And you do require that element of disbelief if you’re to go on this circular Groundhog Day trip and not come out feeling nauseous.

Yes, there are a few plot holes or moments which can detract from the total immersion of the picture but only if you let them. Yes, you could wonder ‘how did they just steal that ship and fly off without anyone noticing?’ or start questioning the time loop/travel thing. And yes, you could not be such a stick-in-the-mud and just roll up your sleeves, sit back and go along with this ripsnorting roller coaster of a ride and have a jolly good time along the way!

Director Doug Liman (Bourne Identity) really pulls out the stops with some sensational action sequences and adrenalin-fuelled tension but these are all supported by a solid backbone of innovative science-fiction and compellingly paced story-telling. Whilst never really delving beyond the surface of these characters – Cruise is a cowardly PR guy turned super soldier, Blunt super soldier turned slightly more human super soldier because she lost someone she loved (or something like that) – and playing firmly in the entertainment arena; it doesn’t really need to do anything else. This film knows what it is and sticks to its guns. Literally.

Like him or love him (OK, OK, some people apparently don’t go for him these days), TC knows how to lead a movie and the chemistry with Blunt only serves to strengthen our engagement and involvement in his plight to ‘Live. Die. Repeat.’ And that’s exactly what he does. The time travel / sci-fi angle is given enough plot time to be believable and played with intelligently enough to feel original. And that’s where this movie really shines, in its originality. Granted, time travel and alien invasion aren’t original filmic concepts but Liman and co. combine to make you feel like you’re watching something fresh and exciting. Not being weighed down by the considerable baggage of a well-established franchise gives Edge of Tomorrow a chance to just let rip and go where it pleases.

As an action blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow absolutely delivers with superb special effects, heart-pounding action and enough innovative entertainment and comedic nuance to be right up there as one of the best of the year so far.

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Godzilla – a review

I shouldn't have had that curry...

I shouldn’t have had that curry…

Confined by the paradigm of the modern day blockbuster, Gareth Edwards‘ Godzilla kowtows to any and all that have preceded, ticking the formulaic narrative boxes along the way. Owing a lot to the grand scale of Michael Bay’s Transformers – at times it could be Optimus Prime fighting Megatron as much as it’s Godzilla vs M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) – you’re presented with, arguably, as ‘big’ a blockbuster as you’ve ever seen.

There are glimpses of Edwards’ visual flare, first seen in his breakthrough and stand-out 2010 feature debut, Monsters, verging on brilliance (the jaw-dropping red skydive sequence); screaming, as loud as Godzilla himself, through the gaps left by the surrounding cage of clichés – promising something truly original but always encased in the inescapable bubble of Hollywood. There’s a blueprint to follow that will make the most money; so stick to it.

In line with that, the marketing campaign has been very good but also very clever. All the, it must be said, excellent trailers that were released played very heavily on Bryan Cranston’s character as the lead of the movie. Discerning nod to Mr Hitchcock, circa 1960, here.

Cranston certainly delivers the (considerable) gravitas needed with the casting of KickAss (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and one of those Olson girls (Elizabeth) who are both just fine but young and pretty rather than anything special or captivating. They are the peppercorn sauce to Cranston’s 24-day-aged sirloin steak.

Taylor-Johnson is almost unrecognisable here from his green spandex days but he makes an admirable attempt at stretching his acting talents to fill out a much more grown-up role (if you thought he was starting to bulk up in KickAss 2 then it appears he’s been very busy since). Ken Watanabe picks up the reins as senior statesman in the acting department and is always interesting to watch but spends much of his screen time looking either bemused or lost.

The best character in the film, after Cranston, is Godzilla himself; somewhere between giant amphibian Gorilla (‘Godzilla’ translates from the Japanese compound Gojira: half gorilla, half whale) and monstrously cute black Labrador, at one point even shooting puppy eyes at Taylor-Johnson, his size is formidable and his resolve indefatigable.

Our destructive neighbourhood leviathan goes up against the M.U.T.O.s, vast prehistoric creatures, from the depths of the Earth, who feed on radiation and will stop at nothing to get their lunch. The design of these beasts is close in concept to Edwards’ creations in Monsters; not alien or fantastical, they are believable evolutionary grotesque-isms; with suggestions of a bird’s wing here and an insect’s abdomen there. This is a nice angle; we all came from the same origins, the same primordial beginnings, these are just supermassive and prehistoric variations on those principal themes. The science is brief but feasible, making this more near-future reality than pure science-fiction fantasy.

As Watanabe’s Ishiro Serizawa says: “The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in their control, and not the other way around.”

In an attempt to polarise us against this ‘nature’ we spend a lot of time with the human characters, spoon-feeding us pathos and emotional engagement. When the gigantic CGI set pieces do occur they’re so sought after and vital that their impact is redoubled. The special effects are awesome in scope and quality anyway but when punctuating elongated and generic exposition scenes they’re even more welcome and enjoyable.

This is a monster movie with a celebrated history and it deserves some credit for the manner in which it pays homage to its filmic ancestory. Setting half the film in Japan being a particularly nice touch, although clearly questionable is the sequence involving a Japanese nuclear power plant disaster. Yes it’s flabby, unoriginal and drags in places but it delivers where it absolutely must: in blockbuster over-the-top-special-effects-action-spectacular splendour.

Messrs Nolan and Whedon (Dark Knight and Avengers respectively) showed the world it’s possible to go big and still maintain a proper film with (a little bit of) soul along the way. Edwards joins that club but brings a little something of his own to the party. The visuals in Godzilla are faultless, which in a massive blockbuster monster-disaster movie is the key. And Edwards uses that key to knowingly unlock the doors on this impressive, albeit formulaic, modern day reimagining of a cinema classic.

 

first published on filmjuice.com

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