Written By: Daniel Kinsley
Doug Liman has had a varied career thus far. The director made a name for himself by introducing the world to Jon Favreau and and Vince Vaughn in Swingers (1996) and followed it up by launching one of the most successful modern action franchises in The Bourne Identity (2002). While both of those films are great, Edge of Tomorrow (2014) is by far the director’s best work so far. The film was met with lukewarm box office, despite a strong critical reaction, but found new life on DVD release * and thank the cinema gods for it. It is Groundhog Day (1993) by way of Starship Troopers (1997) and in the years to come, it will be rightly regarded as the action classic that it is.
The film begins in media res, with an alien race called Mimics waging war (and winning, by a large margin) against humanity. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a PR guy for the Army, not much more than a charming talking head, until he is ordered by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to accompany NATO troops on the front lines into battle-torn France. Cage protests, as he has no combat experience, and only remained in the Army thanks to a ROTC stint. Unfortunately for Cage, the general cannot be bought, bullied, or reasoned with, and Cage ends up unconscious after being tased, only to be woken with a kick at Basic Training, still handcuffed.
It feels like a misnomer to call one of the world’s biggest movie stars underrated, yet it feels like a somewhat appropriate level for Cruise. He comes with baggage for some viewers, but regardless of his real life antics, he remains one of the most charming and hard-working stars we have. As Bill Cage, Cruise has the opportunity to play something new: a total coward, whose charm and swagger is all bluster and bullshit to cover up the fact that he is largely useless. It is fertile ground, and he is clearly having a blast playing the desperate huckster who tries to talk, then cheat, his way out of duty with both the general and Sergeant Farrell (the reliably terrific Bill Paxton) **
Once Cage is fitted with a mechanical battle suit and thrust into actual battle, he dies an incredibly painfully death in short order, but not before taking an unusual Mimic with him. Instead of an afterlife, Cage immediately wakes up in a panic, in the exact same position at Basic that he was in the day before. Cage soon realizes that he is stuck in a time loop, and the film has a ton of fun killing Tom Cruise over and over and over again, to great comic effect *** The flip side, of course, is that he begins to get marginally better at killing the Mimics, as he is forced to relive the same battle over and over. **** His fortune changes when he lives long enough to share his story with “Full Metal Bitch” Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). Before both are killed in battle, she tells him to “find me when you wake up.”
While Cruise makes the film go, it would not work as well as it does without the severely underrated presence of Blunt. Blunt is plainly one of the most talented modern actresses there is, able to take on whatever challenge is thrown at her, and if there is any need for reminder as to why she ought to be a household name, this is it. Rita Vrataski is a badass heroine, tough, resilient, and smart; she will one day take her place among contemporary favorites like Furiosa and Black Widow. Cruise has often been charitable with his co-leads, and it is a particular joy to watch him play second-fiddle to Blunt, all ineffectual and weak as he is trained in the art of combat by the toughest soldier in the war, one who happens to be female. *****
Once Cage and Rita join forces, the nature of the time loop begins to become a bit clearer, as does the mission at hand. When Cage is no longer able to start over, the stakes are raised considerably as the end-game between the humans and the mimics becomes clear. For a film with such heady concepts, it is pretty light on its feet, never allowing what could have been a very convoluted plot to weigh down the fun. Neither is it a deeply thematic film by any means; rather, it is the successful video game adaptation that never was. While the source material comes from a graphic novel called All You Need Is Kill, it is a film that feels most like playing a game, spawning new lives over and over until a series of goals are carried out, complete with a final set-piece against the last big bad.
While some time-travel films have notoriously tricky methods of getting to a point that makes any sense, Edge keeps things fairly simple (and while there are sure to be people who point out the logic flaws) the way the film manages to wrap things up is immensely satisfying, and after several viewings, has managed to leave this viewer with a smile. When people complain about the lack of inventiveness in big summer blockbusters, Edge of Tomorrow is the film that they are looking for. It is a stylish and original film that should be celebrated equally by sci-fi fans and action lovers alike.
* Part of the issue was arguably the bland title, which has been re-branded since its release to Live.Die.Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow.
** Paxton was a truly funny guy, and his best line in the film comes after Cage asks him, “You’re an American, right?” “No, sir,” is his reply. “I’m from Kentucky.”
*** For people who complain about stars like Cruise never biting it, this is a field day for both him and the viewers, watching the ever-creative ways in which he is killed over the course of the film. It sounds like it should get old, but it never does, thanks to some great acting and editing.