In this edition of The Bottom Line, we’ll discuss two long-awaited adaptations featuring a Hollywood veteran and an up-and-coming young Hollywood starlet looking to expand beyond the Divergent franchise. The films are tracking neck-and-neck, and it’s anyone’s guess which one will win at the box office this weekend.
Tom Cruise desperately needed a comeback, and he achieves it with guts and glory in the surprisingly good Edge of Tomorrow (2014). The film, directed by Doug Liman (who also helmed The Bourne Identity (2002) and Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)), successfully re-establishes Tom Cruise as a viable action star after the (relative) lackluster box office performances of his two most recent action vehicles, Jack Reacher (2012) and Oblivion (2013), both of which failed to break the $100 million mark.
Based on the Japanese manga novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the science fiction is premised on Cage’s (Tom Cruise) continual rebirth after dying repeatedly in a futuristic European battle against an alien race. Each time he dies, he reverts back to waking up on a military base just before the battle begins, never failing to refine his approach and live longer each time. Along the way he meets Rita (Emily Blunt), a notorious warrior known as the Full Metal Bitch, who shares some similarities and works with him to defeat the invasion once and for all.
Let me be the first to admit: I am not a Tom Cruise fan – not by a long shot. His movies are reliably good, but his personal antics (many of them having happened, astonishingly, nearly a decade ago) have turned off millions of former fans. But I loved this film. It is extremely derivative and certain elements will remind you of Groundhog Day, Saving Private Ryan, and Independence Day. Fortunately, however, the film manages to meld that blend into its own, and it ends up feeling fresh, fun, and fast-paced. We get to see some special effects that we haven’t previously seen on screen, and the the film’s greatest triumph is ensuring that they serve to augment the story rather than replace it. The film is also rather humorous, with several unexpected laugh-out-loud moments that endear us to the characters and invest us in their journeys. It also offers a tongue-in-cheek view of Tom Cruise playing against type: “I’m not a soldier,” he says, “I don’t know how to fight.”
The film isn’t generating as much buzz is the studio had hoped, though that isn’t a total surprise; Cruise has a genuine image problem, and he is still trying to earn back the trust of former fans. The lack of buzz could also be explained somewhat by the trailers, which have masterfully avoided giving away the entire film; the trailers show just the tip of the iceberg – and that’s a rare and wondrous sight. If you have been holding out on seeing a Tom Cruise film because you’ve lost admiration or interest, you’ll have no choice but to succumb to this film, his best since Minority Report (2002). You’ll love it just as much as I and other critics do.
What could give Tom Cruise a run for his money is Shailene Woodley‘s new film, The Fault in Our Stars. Based on the New York Times bestseller by John Green, the film follows the tragic, melancholic romance between Hazel (Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort), two teenagers who meet at a support group for cancer patients and begin a bittersweet romance. The film features Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe in supporting roles and is rated PG-13.
This is Shailene Woodley’s second film this year, following the sleeper success of Divergent. She also starred in White Bird in a Blizzard, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT, earlier this year and has yet to be released. Her involvement should bring out the targeted demographic, particularly young females, and that could put this film over the top this weekend. Female-driven films have been strong performers the past few years (think The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies) and female sentiment for Tom Cruise isn’t strong. As with Cruise’s film, the critical reception has been strong.
I have yet to see the film, but fellow reviewer Nick Denitto at FilmBook has and you can read his 9 out of 10 review here. The film’s title was taken from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, so that should be your clue to bring tissues. But don’t let that deter you from seeing the film at all, as the screenplay is offered up by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Webber, who also wrote (500) Days of Summer (2009) and The Spectacular Now (2013), two films that were able to mix drama and comedy in a balanced, endearing way. Think of this movie as a Nicholas Sparks film, only less over-dramatic and with more humor.
The Bottom Line is this: there’s a tug-of-war between testosterone and estrogen this weekend, and either way you can’t go wrong.
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