Sometimes a clever little tweak to formula is enough to make a film memorable. EDGE OF TOMORROW is a solid and entertaining sci-fi action film, with good performances, but it wouldn’t be particularly notable if you threw out the unconventional plot structure. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that it’s not complex, as it’s always engaging, and so well put together that you won’t mind.
It’s the near-future and planet Earth is under attack. Try as the armies of the world might, they are fighting a losing battle against an alien foe who can seemingly anticipate every move they make. Armed forces publicist Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) lands in London just as a massive all-out offensive against the alien “Mimics” is being planned, and is forced to join the troops on the front line when he tries to blackmail the wrong general (Brendan Gleeson). His first day in battle does not go well, and Cage is killed by one of the creatures he is fighting. Miraculously, he wakes up again on the morning before battle, and gradually realises he is stuck in a time loop that allows him to predict and correct humanity’s tactical errors, and with the help of fearsome veteran Rita (Emily Blunt) they begin to concoct a plan to finally end the war.
Tom Cruise is the best he’s been since THE LAST SAMURAI, and refreshingly doesn’t seem to be playing Tom Cruise for the first half of the movie – Cage is cowardly, inept and awkward, and only grows into the Cruise action man role through practice, and out of necessity. Emily Blunt convinces as Rita, a formidable warrior woman, and it’s nice to see the relationship between the lead male and female not go quite the direction you’d expect. It’s great to see Bill Paxton in decent stuff again, and has all the best lines in the film as the philosophising Master Sergeant Farell. It must have been a bit odd for Paxton to be playing the veteran and watching a group of young actors playing a squad of kitted-out alien-fighting soldiers (and Cruise), inhabiting the very roles he occupied 30 years ago, but he seems to relish playing a figure of authority, the one who with the task of beating them into reasonable shape.
The battle scenes are intense and visceral, with a few of Doug Liman’s usual directorial flourishes to punctuate the action. The central premise, of Cage dying over and over as he works out how to win, also allows for a fair amount of black humour, particularly funny as he becomes more and more frustrated with his situation and what is expected of him. He’s shot, stabbed, crushed, exploded and run over throughout the film, so even if you’re not usually a Tom Cruise fan, you might get a cheap (if a bit wrong) thrill out of seeing him dying again and again.
The look of the film is somewhere between ALIENS, ELYSIUM and GEARS OF WAR, with power armour that augmenting a soldier’s movements and armaments (here called “exo-suits”), the general look of the military hardware on display, and the film being just about as violent as you can get away with at this certification. The Mimics are scary, glowing, biomachanical masses of tentacles and teeth, and present a real challenge for the unfortunate soldiers fighting them on the D-Day-esque beach battlefield.
The film’s final act has some added tension thanks to a late twist foreshadowed in an earlier scene, but as the story progresses, it only becomes more conventional. That’s not to say Edge of Tomorrow is ever dull – the pace keeps up throughout, and there’s a pleasing vitality to every scene, but Liman never quite manages to match the creativity and novel fun of the film’s first half on narrative and action terms. As criticisms go, this is a pretty minor one, and doesn’t take away from the fact that what is good is really good. I don’t even really mind that Edge of Tomorrow is a really boring movie title (better to stick with Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel title ALL YOU NEED IS KILL), I was just having too much fun to care.
I’m not sure if there’s any deeper message to the movie beyond warfare is an endless and pointless cycle, but as I’ve said, not every sci-fi has to be 2001 or BLADE RUNNER level of complexity, and sometimes there’s a pleasure in a simple (if tweaked) story well-told. The story also ends on an ambiguous note, that so few modern blockbusters have the courage to do (unless they’re shamelessly setting up a sequel). I’d highly recommend Edge of Tomorrow as an interesting enough, meticulously constructed thrill ride that makes you glad Tom Cruise is still in good enough shape to do what he does, and that doesn’t take himself all too seriously while doing it. SSP