My hopes were not high for the new sci-fi action film Edge of Tomorrow. The trailer seemed painfully generic, complete with a gimmicky, Blacklist-friendly hook that has been used numerous times in the past (see Groundhog Day and more recently/relevantly the Duncan Jones film Source Code). That said, the feature comes as quite a relief: not only is it pleasant to see a big budget Hollywood film that isn’t part of a pre-existing proven franchise (a real rarity this year), but Edge of Tomorrow quickly proves itself to be a surprisingly fun summer blockbuster.
Director Doug Liman has helmed some massive hits (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith), but in 2014 is by no means a hot property, with his latest film (2010’s Fair Game) well-liked by critics but a commercial flop. Here, with the aid of Tom Cruise, one of the most consistently bankable stars around, Liman looks set to break his recent dry spell.1
Tom Cruise plays William Cage, a major in the U.S. Army. The Earth is facing an alien race known as the Mimics. Cage is to be sent to the front lines to be filmed in an upcoming attack for the media. When Cage refuses, citing a lack of combat experience, he is shipped off against his will. After being knocked out in the process, he wakes up at an Army base the morning before the attack. In battle, he is quickly killed, and immediately wakes up back at the base, to live the same day over again. He is stuck in a loop.
It is quickly apparent just what a solid premise this is for an action film, perhaps in part because it is based on a Japanese novel, All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. A common complaint about the implausibility of these sorts of movies is that the hero is almost supernaturally competent at avoiding death. In Edge of Tomorrow, there is a plot-based reason for this to be the case. And our hero dies many, many deaths along the way.
Before long, Cage meets Seargeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) who understands what is happening to him. Vrataski is a renowned warrior and shows expertise on the field of battle, which is in stark contrast to Cage at the start of the film, in a nice inversion of typical gender roles. It is when these two meet that the plot really kicks into high gear. The premise is explained in an expository scene that, while obligatory, is a tad confusing. It really feels like the premise came before the explanation for it, rather than arising naturally from the world of the film.
The action scenes, as you might expect, are dynamite. The aliens don’t call to mind any others I’ve seen: they are fluid, massive creatures, inky and black. In short, they look really cool. The explosive battles are frenetic, and Doug Liman isn’t afraid to move the camera around.
As an alum of the Bourne franchise, Liman might be expected to indulge in a good deal of handheld shakiness. And while there is a quite a bit of camera movement during the film’s most intense sequences, it feels very controlled. He’s not going for any kind of “gritty realism” or “faux documentarianism.” Crucially, he lets the subject of any given shot breathe and doesn’t cut with the ridiculous speed that’s become fashionable of late. Occasionally we get a sweeping overhead shot of the battle at hand, illustrating just how stacked the deck is against our heroes. The score is competent, generic, unobtrusive. It’s very easy to ignore, and does little to either add or subtract from the onscreen action. And the film looks great. There is a ton of CGI but it blends with the physically present actors and props quite well. When Cage and Vrataski battle the Mimics, they seem part of the same environment.
Tom Cruise has been the butt of a lot of jokes in recent years, but there’s a reason he’s perhaps the biggest movie star in the world. Edge of Tomorrow is exactly the kind of movie he should be acting in. He’s totally believable as a soldier despite being in his fifties, and is incredibly charming in his interactions with his fellow soldiers and with Emily Blunt’s character. The guy could have chemistry with a telephone pole, but Blunt manages to go above and beyond what that role would typically require. She is more than convincing as a warrior, someone who’s seen her share of battle and is worse off for it. Unfortunately, the relationship between Cage and Vrataski is imbued with an unnecessary romantic undertone, as seems to be the case in big-budget films that toy with convention. Rounding out the cast is Bill Paxton, who really commits to his role of the hardass sergeant, while often providing some great comic relief in the process.
The film’s conclusion will feel off to some. Many will view it as a cop out of sorts. It is here that the film’s confusing logic frustrates, as the leap the plot makes essentially asks us to trust the film that it makes sense. If you can get over that then you should enjoy Edge of Tomorrow. It’s filled with solid performances, humor, and well-executed action sequences.
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