Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Editor’s Notes: Edge of Tomorrow opens this Friday in wide release.
Whoever came up with the “Live. Die. Repeat.” tagline certainly earned their salary (or deserves a reward of some kind). Those three words perfectly capture the semi-familiar premise behind Tom Cruise’s (Oblivion, War of the Worlds, Minority Report, Vanilla Sky) latest foray into the science-fiction/action genre, Edge of Tomorrow, a heady, deft mix of Groundhog Day, Starship Troopers, Aliens, and Saving Private Ryan. Thanks to Cruise’s central performance as a coward-turned-videogame-action-hero, Doug Liman’s (Fair Game, Jumper, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity, Go, Swingers) propulsive, energetic direction, and Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher, Valkyrie, The Usual Suspects), Jeb Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth’s (Fair Game) whip-smart, high-concept-driven adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 novel, “All You Need is Kill,” Edge of Tomorrow is far from just another unoriginal, derivative genre-mash-up. Edge of Tomorrow may have just taken the top spot among summer blockbuster releases, regardless of genre.
Edge of Tomorrow may have just taken the top spot among summer blockbuster releases, regardless of genre.
When we first meet Cruise’s character, William Cage, a major in the U.S. Army who specializes in public relations – in effect selling the war against invading aliens, Mimics, to civilians around the world – he’s as superficially arrogant, smug, and cocky as the average Tom Cruise character, with one notable exception: That bluster-filled façade hides a me-first, cowardly streak. When the British commander of the expected counter-attack, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), orders Cage to land with frontline troops – the better to capture the glories of war firsthand as an embedded journalist, complete with film crew – Cage literally bolts, but he doesn’t get far. When he awakens, he’s been busted down to private, assigned to a squad filled with surly, uncommunicative recruits, hoisted into a tricked-up, exo-suit he doesn’t know how to use, and dropped into battle. Not surprisingly, Cage doesn’t last long, but an inadvertent encounter with an alpha Mimic gives Cage the unique power to reset the day, albeit only when he dies.
In effect, Cage has the ultimate cheat code. He can replay the same scenario repeatedly until he advances to the next level (if there is one). Cage quickly learns, however, that infinite lives don’t guarantee he’ll advance at all. A close encounter with a highly decorated soldier, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), on the battlefield, gives Cage an “out” of sorts. On his next resurrection, Cage seeks out Rita, hoping she’ll give him the training necessary to survive the war (game). It’s harder than Cage imagines, of course. The Mimics aren’t easily defeated or evaded. They seem to anticipate at least some of Cage’s moves too (they had the power originally, after all), leading to an increasingly clever, if credibility-stretching, series of complications that force Cage and Rita to rethink the battle (game) and its objectives completely, in part with the help of a disgraced scientist, Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), who seems to have all the (expository) answers Cage and Rita need.
Rapid-fire edits and camera moves serve Edge of Tomorrow’s war-centered narrative rather than some abstract idea of “cool” or audience engagement…
With its seemingly open environment gameplay, infinite lives cheat code, changing objectives, alien obstacles, including the obligatory “Big Boss” or “Bosses,” Edge of Tomorrow can be seen – at least from one perspective – as the best videogame adaptation put on film (albeit for a videogame that hasn’t been produced or released yet). Even if you’re not a videogamer or have any interest in the videogame analogy, Edge of Tomorrow delivers a strong narrative filled with all manner of unexpected turns, twists, and detours, a surprisingly sympathetic central character in Cage, a character whose transformation – the obligatory redemptive arc – never feels false or unearned (because it’s not), a co-lead in Emily Blunt more than equal to the task. She’s strong-willed, determined, and focused, qualities Cage initially lacks. A strong supporting cast, including Bill Paxton as the master sergeant apparently drawn from Cage’s worst nightmare (not to mention an obvious homage to Paxton’s memorable turn as a fast-talking, cowardly Marine in Aliens almost three decades ago).
From the vertiginous (and possibly nausea inducing for moviegoers sitting too close to a 3D screen)) Normandy beach landing (clearly reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan), Edge of Tomorrow repeatedly revisits (often from different angles or slightly different perspectives), to the chaotic, climactic set piece in an eerily abandoned, flooded, dystopian Paris, Edge of Tomorrow never fails to deliver the action side of the sci-fi/action equation. Liman directs with a firm grasp of space and geography, making the action relatively easy or straightforward to follow, even during the controlled chaos of the Normandy beach assault. Rapid-fire edits and camera moves serve Edge of Tomorrow’s war-centered narrative rather than some abstract idea of “cool” or audience engagement (for the ADHD crowd like Michael Bay’s extensive oeuvre does). It’s a principle other filmmakers should follow when embarking on big-budget blockbuster wannabes. Few will, of course. Everyone else, however, can look forward to enjoying an example of what Hollywood and Tom Cruise do best: Big-budget, sci-fi/action filmmaking with the occasional thought-provoking idea or two.
Edge of Tomorrow delivers a strong narrative filled with all manner of unexpected turns, twists, and detours, and a surprisingly sympathetic central character.