I was pleasantly surprised. The summer blockbuster season is now fully in swing, and this is the third “big action” film I’ve seen in the last week. Godzilla was terrible, X-Men was very good, and I was honestly not expecting much from this, after all the lead male character was being played by Tom Cruise.
Tom Cruise, like George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio all suffer from the same affliction – that they are basically the same character in all of their movies. When someone like Gary Oldman is in a film, you see him but you overwhelmingly see the character that he is playing, sometimes it’s so good that you don’t even realise that its him (he was once in a film called The Contender and I didn’t realise until the end credits). Whenever you watch a film with Tom Cruise in it, you see Tom Cruise.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and studios love it because these guys are bankable stars and them getting recognised is part of the point. But it gets old very quickly, and it becomes increasingly difficult to find parts in films which can both suit the actor’s repeating character, and yet still be different enough that the audience believes that he is acting. Cruise’s last few movies have failed at this, and this one nearly does too.
Fortunately, the writing and in particular the performance of Emily Blunt in her first action role (talk about jumping into the deep end) really does save the film.
The premise is simple enough – there is an alien invasion, and the humans aren’t doing so well. However, by chance, someone (Tom Cruise’s character) develops the ability to reset the day every time he dies. In other words it’s groundhog day meets starship troopers. Although initially hopeless at combat against a superior alien foe, his ability to live the day over and over again allows him to gradually become better at fighting the aliens.
Enter Rita Vrataski (blunt), a special ops fighter who has experienced the same thing and is thus the only other person who really believes his story. Together they must figure out how to win the war.
The very frequent resetting of the day could have easily become tiresome, but it doesn’t. Indeed, the directing, writing, and editing comes together very well in being able to tell a story in an engaging and non-repetitive (which is difficult considering the plot) way. The special effects were also surprisingly well-handled, with the alien creatures and concept being quite original in their execution (hint: they don’t just look like people with painted skin).
Cruises’s character is incredibly annoying. Not just because it is so unmistakably and distinctively Tom Cruise, but also because it is a little jarring next to Blunt’s character, who is a complex and brooding badass who chops aliens up with a sharpened helicopter blade with a handle attached. Nevertheless, their interaction is one of the highlights of this film, and a good thing too, since that really is what holds it all together.
The movie is well-paced and uncharacteristically for action films these days, not too long. I had a lot of problems with the ending. It wasn’t quite as bad as World War Z, where it ends very abruptly and unceremoniously, but rather suffered the problem of the Lord of the Rings, where there seemed to be more than one logical place to end the film, and they chose the wrong one. There may also have been an editing error towards the end (there are some continuity/timeline issues). That is not to say that the ending is unsatisfying, or leaves too many loose ends. On the contrary, the ending (and one or two out-of-character things that happen in the lead up) is a little bit too Hollywood for my liking.
There’s action, there’s aliens, and there’s some pretty decent character development too, all wrapped around an interesting time-loop story where the entire universe of the film basically exists within a two day time period. Tom Cruise is the cocky annoying guy while Emily Blunt is the gritty, battle-hardened/scarred, byronic hero who ultimately helps him win the war. If they’d ended it differently, I might have named it as an equal to X-Men, but they (probably the studio, meddling to make the ending ‘happier’) messed up and ended up with a lesser film. It’s not as good as X-Men: Days of Future Past, but it’s not too bad, and certainly worth a watch.