Film Review – Edge of Tomorrow
Edge of Tomorrow
Edge of Tomorrow (2014) is one heck of a fun time. No doubt comparisons to other films will be made, as this could be seen as the love child of Groundhog Day (1993) and Starship Troopers (1997). But Director Doug Liman and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez and John-Henry Butterworth have put a fresh spin on familiar material (the story was adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s graphic novel All You Need is Kill). Featuring strong special effects, convincing central performances, and a surprisingly good amount of humor, this is one of the high marks of the summer movie season.
Tom Cruise continues to prove he can still headline an action picture, even at the ripe old age of fifty-one. Once again, he doesn’t miss a step, as he takes on his role with all the apparent physicality that’s required of him. However people may think of him off-screen, he knows what he’s good at. Here he plays Major William Cage, an army officer in charge of public relations. In the near future Earth has been invaded by an alien force, nicknamed “Mimics”. These are powerful creatures, lightening quick and possessing deadly tentacles. Think of giant-sized, killer squids. The only way to fight back against the Mimics is through the development of weaponized combat suits. Cage’s job: convince society to embrace the technology as a means to win the war.
Cage is not one of your usual “Tom Cruise” characters, at least not to begin with. Cage is comfortable with giving interviews on TV, miles away from any battle situation. He’s even labeled a coward. This is a different take for Cruise, and seeing him try to weasel his way out of danger is not something we often see. Through an inexplicable mix up, Cage is demoted to private, and shipped off to the front lines in France, where a massive invasion (ala D-Day) is planned. Out of his element (he doesn’t even know how to release the safety on his suit), Cage gets killed within minutes of landing on the beach.
But then he wakes up, back to when he was initially sent to the infantry unit, to go through the entire invasion all over again. And this is where we learn the basic function of the plot: watching Cage live through the exact same day, but once killed, rewind all the way back to the beginning. While Groundhog Day did not give an explanation as to why its main character repeated the same day, Edge of Tomorrow does. The reason for this phenomenon will require flights of fancy some may not embrace (I didn’t quite buy it myself). But the important thing to note is that it is not everlasting. If Cage makes the wrong decision, he could lose this gift and die on that beach permanently. This enables the narrative with legitimate tension.
The one person who believes him is Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a revered soldier famous for taking down countless more Mimics than anyone else. I’ll refrain from describing why she accepts his story when others think he’s crazy. Let’s just say this isn’t the first time she’s heard of this happening. As Rita, Blunt plays her as a tough, no nonsense contrast to Cruise’s inexperienced Cage. Using his newfound ability, Rita trains Cage while he helps her map out what will happen during the invasion. Cruise and Blunt are convincing together. Their characters meet through necessity and understanding, and thankfully whatever sexual tension there may be is done away with quickly. They have much more important things to worry about than falling prey to a tired action movie trope.
In the wrong hands, the repetitious nature of the plot could have been fumbled disastrously. But the writing, directing, and editing are clever enough to have the continuous loop remain evolving. Rita and Cage take the progression a step at time, learning from their mistakes along the way. There are instances where they take a wrong turn, leading to a dead end. The frustration and sense of hopelessness are tangible. There is a video-game logic here, but in a good way. The two act as the players trying to make it to the final level. But the narrative is smarter than to leave it at that, there are real stakes since their predicament will eventually end, one way or another. They can’t simply rage-quit when things get tough.
Did I mention this was funny? Way funnier than I thought it would be. Cruise gets the opportunity to showcase his comedic ability with his performance. Seeing him screw up and get killed over and over again was strangely entertaining, if not hilarious. Seeing the reactions of the supporting cast (including Bill Paxton as Master Sergeant Farell) to Cage’s antics could be enough to designate this as a sci-fi/action/comedy hybrid.
I had a good time with Edge of Tomorrow. It does have its problems, notably an ending that copped out and settled for a safer resolution. But the strength of the lead performances and the inventive use of sci-fi conventions make this better than the usual mainstream fare.