The 10 Keys to Making a Successful Summer Film
1. Create a story to keep the audience engaged and entertained…
Lieutenant Cage (Tom Cruise), the army’s PR guru, is summoned to the London office of General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), who is leading the fight against an invasion of alien creatures in Europe. Cage is ready to make another soldier a star, another recruitment poster star, but Brigham has other ideas. He wants Cage to go to the front lines and capture all of the fighting for a different ad campaign. Cage is terrified of the idea and can’t talk the General into changing his plan. The next day, he wakes up at Heathrow, where Allied forces are training and preparing for a massive offensive the next day. Cage meets Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) who listens to Cage’s story with amusement before introducing him to the other privates in the platoon. The offensive doesn’t go well, but Cage manages to spot Rita (Emily Blunt), the hero used in the recruiting posters, before he is overrun by one of the aliens. He dies. Then wakes up the next day, again at Heathrow, about to meet Sergeant Farell. Cage quickly realizes what is going on, and tries to convince someone, anyone, that they are about to be ambushed. Rita listens and they quickly realize that with each death, Cage learns more and more, and they get closer and closer to defeating the aliens.
2. Hire writers and a director who can tell a good story…
“Edge of Tomorrow”, written by Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”, “Valkyrie”, “Jack Reacher”) and Jez & John-Henry Butterworth (“Fair Game”) and directed by Doug Liman (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, “The Bourne Identity”, “Fair Game”), is a remarkably good thriller. Yes, it falls victim to the overblown finale most sci-fi flicks attempt and fail at. But until that point, it is a suspenseful, funny, well-made film.
Liman is a very good director and he continues to show off his chops with “Edge”. As soon as the film opens, we are thrust into the action alongside Cage, who is also a reluctant hero, very reluctant. A series of news snippets help establish that we are already deeply involved in the conflict and Cage’s interactions with the General help to illustrate that the next battle will be a major (and last?) offensive. They have to give it everything they have.
Liman keeps the action moving, using the story structure created by the writers to not only reset Cage’s life everyday, but to reset the narrative, bringing us the best bits without sacrificing story or character development. Basically, the whole story is about character development, about Cage training to become a warrior and learning as much as he can about fighting the new aliens.
3. Get yourself an outstanding lead actor..
Tom Cruise is one of the most bankable, successful movie stars out there. Well, thank you, Mr. States the Obvious. He has had a remarkably illustrious career, with its share of critically acclaimed works and even a few misses. So, when you have Tom Cruise in your film, the likelihood of a hit becomes greater. And with time, he has also become a much better actor. Initially cast for his alarmingly good looks, usually as the cocky man ready to buck the system, about to make his own rules, these films didn’t allow him much opportunity to show off his acting chops. But he began to work some of these roles into the rotation, while always keeping the high-profile, high-budget projects in the mix. And he began to earn a reputation for both his acting skill and his box office prowess.
In “Edge of Tomorrow”, both come into play. His acting ability helps to make Cage a more interesting character than many other actors might be able to create. He initially shows a little of the trademark cockiness, when he tries to bribe the General into letting him out of his assignment. But when he wakes up on the field at Heathrow, unaware of how he got there, he shows a great vulnerability. Then, with each death, he shows growth and even some humor. He gradually becomes a bad-ass warrior, ready and able to hold his own with Rita.
4. Cast an interesting, even unconventional female lead…
Emily Blunt is an unusual casting choice; she isn’t exactly known as an action movie doyenne. Thanks again, Mr. States the Obvious. But because she isn’t known for this type of role, and does such a convincing job, the character becomes all the more memorable. When Cage first shows up, she regards him with a negligible amount of interest. But he eventually gets into contact with her and she realizes they have both experienced a similar situation, causing to take him more seriously. Then they begin training together, and Rita remains the driving force, the leader of their mission.
It is nice to see the actress, commonly known for comedies and romantic dramas, take on such a hard-ass character. In the film, she is often called “Full Metal Bitch”, a result of the propaganda campaign after an earlier victory against the aliens.
5. Gather a well-rounded supporting cast…
Brendan Gleeson, in an incredibly distracting toupee, does a good job in his few short moments. Bill Paxton seems to be having fun as the master sergeant not too- far removed from his redneck upbringing. The rest of the platoon is pretty forgettable. Each only has a moment or two to establish a quick trait to help set them apart from everyone else.
6. Throw in some great action…
Very much like a video game, each time Cage is ‘reborn’ the scene changes just a little bit. But the quality of these moments helps to set it apart from your average, more typical video game-cum-movie. From the moment their transport is about to land on the beach in France, to the first encounter with one of the aliens, the creatures are impressive and move quickly, giving each interaction an intensity not always seen.
Take some of the speed of a “Transformer” and mix in some of the alien design of “Starship Troopers” and you begin to get an idea of what the creatures are like.
7. Some great special effects…
As noted, the creatures are impressively rendered with computer - generated imagery. They move fast and seem to act randomly, heightening the element of danger they bring to the battles.
The rest of the elements of the battle, the transport, the final confrontation, are all very believable and make for a good thrill ride.
8. …And an interesting back-story for the aliens…
Yes and no. Rita knows about an interesting fact related to the aliens, which is why she engages with Cage in the first place. He is now experiencing the same thing she did, a condition which helped make her the hero, the icon she is today. And she knows that this is a second chance to possibly defeat them. All of this, which I won’t reveal because it would be giving away a lot of the fun and surprise, helps to paint a portrait of these invading creatures, giving them a more interesting back-story.
SPOILER ALERT – Well, sort of. When you watch this film, you will soon realize you have seen this type of thing a hundred times before. ---
As the film barrels towards the end, the alien story becomes less interesting because the climax is pretty similar to so many science fiction films. They discover the mother alien is nesting in a deep, dark place and their team of misfits needs to get there and destroy the big nest, which will also kill all of the other aliens. Really, this scene plays out just as it has in sooooo many other films that it is a pretty big disappointment. Even more so because you would expect something better, something more interesting from the director of “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”. But the writers wrote it, the director directed it, so this is what we have to work with.
And honestly, while it isn’t an original climax, the quality of the material leading up to it more than makes up for it.
9. Make sure the film is marketed and positioned well…
I initially heard reports that this film was going to be the first bomb of the summer. Confusion was my first reaction, because “Edge” was going to be released after the new Adam Sandler film “Blended” and there was no way that piece of filmed crap was going to make any money. Thankfully, “Blended” bombed. As did “A Million Ways To Die In The West”. The difference between these two films and “Edge”, is that the Tom Cruise vehicle cost at least three times more to make. Immediately, I thought the film would receive a critical drubbing and die a quick death. But it started to get great reviews. And then I learned why the film would bomb. It was released the same weekend as “The Fault In Our Stars”, a film that reportedly cost $12 million dollars and stars a young actress who is receiving great reviews for everything she does. “The Fault In Our Stars” was number one on opening weekend, “Edge” came in a distant third. Not a good sign. But it is unfortunate, because both films are very good. But “Edge” is going to ultimately fulfill its destiny and I really enjoyed it.
10. And don't call your sci-fi film "Edge of Tomorrow".
Honestly, it sounds like a soap opera from the 50s.
But, if you go to see "Edge of Tomorrow", you will enjoy it and feel that your money has been well-spent.