As Tom Cruise gets ready to sprint into theaters with Mission Impossible: Fallout, it’s worth pregaming with his last really great non-MI film: 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow. Cruise certainly has his offputting personal qualities, but you can’t say the man doesn’t show up to a film set with unrivaled energy. The best roles he’s had blend his affinity for absurd physicality and character work. Cruise, unlike a lot of action stars, actually can act. He may have stopped going for Oscar-type roles, but he’s better than his recently dreary The Mummy or the Jack Reacher duology. Edge or Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat depending on which title you prefer) provides Cruise with the best time travel gimmick since Groundhog Day and a character that plays against his type.
Cruise’s character is EoT isn’t a hero, he doesn’t want to fight, and he starts out as kind of a coward. The “Cruisian Superhero” tropes that Tom usually leans on aren’t anywhere to be found in Doug Liman’s film. Until his character begins his time loop, there isn’t much redeemable in this character. Once he’s trapped, though, he has to go through to get out. Going through, however, in this case, requires a lot of dying. There are some interesting theories on how much time Cruise actually spends trapped in his loop during the film. He dies (resetting his loop) 16 times on-camera in Edge of Tomorrow, but the implication is that’s just a fraction of his journey. Estimates on the IMDB boards on his time looping duration range from 100 days to 1,000 days to 10 years. As he spends more and more time buffing out the dings in his temporal prison, he becomes more and more redeemable and the time forge ends up pounding out one of Cruise’s best and most unlikely heroes by film’s end.
Making a “great video game” movie has become an annual rite of failure for Hollywood. For whatever reason, even games that have great storytelling and visuals on home consoles can’t be adapted competently on to the big screen. Just this year Tomb Raider and Ready Player One whiffed in trying to translate. I think the best video game movie currently is actually a sequel to a movie based on a kids’ book: 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
Welcome to the Jungle uses all the conventions of video games: limited lives, character skills, levels, bosses, NPCs, cut scenes, and more to push the plot along a fast-paced, comedic action roller coaster. If the plot is thin…..well so are most video games, and every one of the characters is more than aware that they’re trapped within one. It doesn’t waste time trying to be more than what it is, and mainly the entire jungle serves as a showcase for the movie’s true star: their four leads’ complete and utter dorkiness within their host bodies. My favorite exploration of the movie/game space is when the four character discover how to read their character’s stat sheets and discover the strengths and weaknesses (mostly weaknesses for Kevin Hart) of their flesh prisons.
I have rarely, if ever, been more wrong about a TV show than I was with The Good Place. Honestly, it’s not entirely my fault. The show’s advertising looked awful. I couldn’t imagine how anyone was going to be able to sustain a show about the afterlife, but then I didn’t know how much of a genius Michael Shur was. Not only did he manage to create a genius sitcom that takes place in religion-neutral Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, but he’s written most of the episodes. The show isn’t just funny, it’s seriously addictive. I watched each of the first two seasons in two annual sittings. Ted Danson is taking a victory tour as one of the best comedic actors in TV history as Michael, the architect of The Good Place. In the show’s pilot, Michael gives an orientation to the recently deceased as to how their life’s actions have gained the entry to this elite post-death paradise. As good as the orientation is, you need to pause and read all the hundreds of scoring criterion that pop up during his speech. If you’re in a show hole during the summer TV doldrums, this is one you definitely need to catch up on.
A very valid criticism of the MCU before Phase Three was that it has spent its time on its heroes to the detriment of its villains. It’s a testament to how well-cast and developed the heroes have been because a lot of Marvel’s villains have been forgettable at best. Beginning with Zemo in Captain America: Civil War, you began to see three-dimensional baddies, building to Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in Black Panther. The best villains are convinced they’re right in what they’re doing and are either charismatic enough to convince the audience that they are justified in their actions or have legitimate points that they’ve taken to unacceptable extremes. Killmonger forces T’Challa out of his comfort zone and makes him face uncomfortable truths about the past of his family and the policies of his country. He’s lethal, driven, but also completely understandable and sympathetic.
Halfway through 2018, Black Panther is probably still the best film of the year-to-date. 2018 has been jammed full of unwarranted sequels and anemic remakes. This is, in all likelihood, the worst year for film in my lifetime. Without the MCU, I can’t even imagine how sick I’d be of the theater. Issue #20 releases this weekend with Ant-Man and the Wasp, and it can’t arrive soon enough. Marvel’s success this year has been astounding. The last two MCU films (Black Panther & Avengers: Infinity War) are the #3 and #4 highest grossing films of all-time in the US. That’s a staggering achievement and testimony to how trusted the quality of the MCU has become in a time where even the most reliable franchises have started to sputter out.