06 June 2014

The Road to a Blockbuster: The Edge of Two Days from Yesterday

It's kind of insane that four years ago this month I offered a brief profile of Tom Cruise, and how he was universally awesome for like twenty years, then had a few moments where we all found out he was crazy as shit, but then he's had some kind of resurgence since then. At least in terms of public opinion. Since Knight & Day (2010), which inspired that post, Cruise, despite turning 52 next month, has settled neatly into an action role with three solid it not completely life changing films: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011), Jack Reacher (2012), and Oblivion (2013). All three have also been pretty decent, if not paradigm-shifting Box Office Successes. And we'll forget about Rock of Ages (2012), holy shit.

So here's some more Tom Cruise sci-fi business. He really doesn't do sci-fi that often, it's just that Minority Report (2002) and War of the Worlds (2005) are some of his most notable and successful films, critically and commercially, respectively. For Minority Report's part, many would also consider it Steve Spielberg's last great science fiction actioner, which is significant. Tom Cruise himself is often called one of the last great movie stars, and with just about every other great standard of the 90s, from Will Smith to Adam Sandler failing abjectly at the Box Office, that may still be true, for a real bomb eludes Thomas Mapother IV.

It helps that he generally makes good movies. I mean, generally good. And he's game for everything. That's a pretty rare trait for an actor. No matter how stupid or corny the role may be, Tom Cruise is all in, whether it be the sophomore directorial effort from the dude who made Tron: Legacy (2010) who is more concerned with apocalyptic landscapes than his A-List megastar or the latest entry in a spy franchise that has felt tired and uninspired for like ten years, but continually surprises and engages. There's a lot of hate on Tommy Cruise but it's just because of an exaggerated public persona that has surpassed the appreciation for his efforts on screen. Amy Nicholson in a recent piece in LA Weekly summed up his career decisions exhaustively, especially in terms of the kinds of roles he would or would not pick, which up until his recent cave-in to all-actioner mode, was often fascinating.

That's just it, though, Tom Cruise is an endless enigma. He built this epic reckless dude persona through Risky Business (1983) and Top Gun (1986), riffed on it through Rain Man (1988) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989), then back to a few action flicks before nabbing the lead role in Kubrick's last film and his best role, another riff in Magnolia (1999). His 21st-Century work is far crazier, though, with less clear distinctions between a need to balance mainstream Blockbuster fare and more personal work. Would Cruise appear in Vanilla Sky (2001) today? It's as if he's felt a need to sell-out, even though everyone has seen him as a sell-out for years, but that's not really true. It's just that any project the biggest star in the world does gains this tremendous profile, even his riskier, intimate portrayals of broken versions of the cocksure handsome jock-type he's earned millions of dollars on.

So, Edge of Tomorrow (2014). Director, Doug Liman has a knack for doing kind of everything, from indie creds (Swingers [1996] and Go [1999]) to the film that reshaped Matt Damon's career and produced a massive franchise (The Bourne Identity [2002]) to the film that created Brangelina, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005). Seriously, his films have launched or significantly impacted the careers of Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, and Brad Pitt. That's no small order. Also, Jumper (2008). Jumper happened. By all accounts, these are also four exceptional movies, and despite his on-set wackiness, it's very clear that he had a distinct vision and his stars were on board, even if Emily Blunt was a little less patient than Tom Cruise, though not by much.

What's to say about this thing? It's Groundhog Day (1993) meets Omaha Beach with fucking aliens, it's a trip, man! What is really helping Edge of Tomorrow is its growing reputation for actually being a good film, which is exciting! You don't see those that often! The marketing blitz has been heavy, which is selling this thing as equal parts serious-minded action flick with a sardonic tone, you know, considering how many times Tom Cruise has to die.

It definitely seems like a familiar plot, although time loops can lead to some interesting story possibilities, like Triangle (2009). Still, this is generally new territory for this genre, and Tom Cruise playing basically an incompetent boob that gets killed a lot should have its share of supporters, haters or not. I'm curious if this really takes off because there's not a whole ton of other June action competition, at least till Transformers: Age of OMG DINOSAURZ!!!! (2014). I'm kind of betting though, that this dues about as well as those first three movies listed way up there. Decent, but not earth-shattering. My guess is that's what this thing's cultural influence will be, too. Maybe more significant than Oblivion, but that's not saying much.

Edge of Tomorrow opens everywhere...today!

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