Total Film just leapt back from an exclusive preview of Tom Cruise's latest action sci-fi Edge Of Tomorrow, which was introduced by the man himself via a video pre-record (futuristic!), and accompanied by an in-person Doug Liman, who stayed around for a post-footage Q&A.
Selflessly, Cruise spent much of his intro talking up his collaborators, describing director Doug Liman's achievements in film - reminding us that he's done everything from Swingers to The Bourne Identity - references which actually turned out to be a pretty good indicators of what we went on to watch.
He also described his co-star Emily Blunt as a "Bad-ass, with extraordinary range." And we saw plenty of evidence of that in the footage, as well.
But Cruise didn't get left out of the praise party. Liman went on to say: "Tom is a brilliant comedic actor, truly brilliant. He's the gutsiest, most courageous actor I've ever worked with."
Even if, at one point, he did acknowledge the unique section of films fans who dislike Cruise on sight - "If you hate Tom Cruise, he dies 200 times in the movie." - Liman was full of genuine admiration for his star and, from the evidence of what we saw, his respect is completely deserved. This is the best we've seen from Cruise in a long time (and we're big Oblivion fans).
The footage was surprisingly funny, with a Swingers-level wit at times (that is, if Swingers had featured a scene in which Heather Graham dismissively shot Jon Favreau in the face after a bad chat-up line) and some /insanely/ cool action beats.
The scenes weren't clearly delineated into sections, rather, it was one big flowing sequence that appeared to be compiled from moments across the movie, so - at times - we got a bit confused as to where we were in the story.
But perhaps that was Warner Bros. encouraging us to go method and experience what it's like to be baffled about our place in the space-time continuum.
Regardless, we're going to describe roughly what we saw below, as clearly as we can.
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The footage opened on Cruise as he wakes up in the middle of a military base. Bill Paxton's Master Sergeant Farell approaches, and reveals that Cruise is being processed with the other new recruits ahead of a big battle tomorrow.
Cruise explains he's a PR man, not a soldier, and THAT there's been some kind of mistake. He asks for a phone call, and Farell pulls a switch-a-roo, revealing that Cruise is a deserter, and he's going to be forced to fight the next day.
We cut to a huge armada of spaceships flying through the air - this shot was awesome, looking like Avatar multiplied by a million - then we jump into one, with Cruise's William Cage strapped into the craft with a bunch of other soldiers all in their exo-suits.
After a rousing speech from Paxton - "Remember, there is no courage without fear!" - Cruise has just enough time to ask one of his fellow soldiers how to take the safety off his gun, before a sudden explosion rips through the craft and bodies start to drop.
Still attached to the ship via a connective wire, Cruise's Cage pirouettes through the air in a sequence that's going to look amazing in 3D, before dropping into a beach battle scene.
This looked /beautiful/, and incredibly intense, with explosions all around and missiles spiralling through the sky, leaving hefty smoke trails everywhere.
After a spot of battlefield fun - including a very dark gag drawn from a falling spaceship - we're introduced to Emily Blunt as she punches and blasts an alien into submission. The aliens look a bit like Matrix squids covered in ultra-violet lights, and were probably the only minor disappointment in the footage. But it is a small negative (Liman pointed out later: "At the end of the day, I wasn't making a movie about an alien invasion.") and the footage revealed there's much more to Edge Of Tomorrow than that.
Anyway, we then saw a fairly beautiful shot of Blunt, framed by trails of missile smoke, looking like the coolest bad-ass in the galaxy, before suddenly - and shockingly - an alien attacks, killing her in an instant.
Cruise joins his group, who are quickly torn up by an attacking squid. He manages to switch on his gun, blasts one of the aliens, before working out how to use a rocket launcher, and exploding another. Unfortunately, that creature's weird acidy blood splashes Cruise's face, and kills him in a gross melty way that drew gasps from the crowd.
He wakes up back on the base, where we first found him, and the movie's Groundhog Day concept is revealed. He relives the processing day, the battle sequence, with each time trying to change events.
We saw a few minutes of this stuff, before the next big twist was revealed - after he finally manages to save Blunt, she realises the situation he's in and tells him "Come and find me when you wake up."
We cut to Cruise seeking Blunt out, who, after a minor confrontation (it turns out she doesn't remember him) is convinced of Cage's time-loop situation, and tells him "What happened to you, happened to me, I had it and I lost it."
We then go into an impossibly cool training sequence, as Blunt trains Cruise to be the ultimate fighter, swinging a massive sword about and generally being amazing. Then, when Cruise f*cks up, falls down and complains of a broken back, she wearily pulls out a gun and shoots him in the head so they can start all over again. This bit got big laughs.
Then, we went straight into an extended sequence of Cruise being a bad-ass. If you like it when heroes shoot baddies casually, without so much as looking at them, you're going to find a lot to enjoy in this film. We got goosebumps during one moment of Cruise awesomeness which is pretty impressive.
Finally, we saw a sequence featuring Cruise and Blunt in a farmhouse setting that had shades of Looper. There are several movie touchstones throughout the footage we saw, some we were expecting (Groundhog Day, Aliens), and others that came as a pleasant surprise (Avatar, The Matrix). But it's the Looper element that was perhaps the most exciting.
Far from being just a boom-filled blockbuster (though the action does look exciting), Edge Of Tomorrow seems like it's going to focus on character as much as it does explosions, an element Liman was keen to talk up when discussing his relative lack of interest in the alien creatures.
"Alien invasions don't necessarily bring out the best in the characters, as evidenced by other recent alien invasion movies."
The idea of Liman doing a generic big blockbuster seemed to concern the director. He described himself as having a terror of selling out, and being relieved that Warner Bros. encouraged him to be "contrary and rebellious" on Edge Of Tomorrow.
But mostly, he wants to impress his friends. "I hang out with an artsy, intellectual crowd, and when I tell them about the movie, I probably talk up Emily Blunt's involvement instead of Tom's, because they're judgmental." he said, with his tongue only slightly in his cheek.
But, having nearly finished the film, Liman said later that he's proud of what they've achieved together. "I can hold my head when my friends in Brooklyn see it."
We've got a feeling that, after the film screens, Liman's hipster mates will be boasting about the fact their friend made a film with the Cruise-ian mega-star.
Because if there's one thing that's clear from the footage it's this: Emily Blunt is a bad-ass. But if there are two things, it's also this - Tom Cruise is about to become very cool indeed.
Edge of Tomorrow hits UK cinemas from 30 May 2014.
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