When I first saw the trailers for Director Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, I immediately thought, Oh, it’s the action sci-fi Groundhog Day. And while the conceit is very similar to that Harold Ramis classic, Edge of Tomorrow forges its own path to become something Hollywood has been chasing for decades: the ultimate video game film.
The film jumps right into the action through multiple news telecasts that describe how a meteorite hit in Germany and within months Europe is consumed by an alien race the humans call Mimics. Throughout the newscasts, we are introduced to Major Bill Cage (Tom Cruise), a good looking PR man for the U.S. Military as well as the United Defense Force, which is what the army of nations calls itself. Cage is not a soldier, he was in ROTC in college and when his advertising business folded, he enlisted as an officer—he has never seen combat. General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) wants to change all that with the major assault he’s planning on France. He wants Cage in the thick of it to put a good spin on the battle. Cage resists and Brigham exacts revenge by busting him down to Private and labeling him a deserter. Now he’s not going to be embedded with the troops, he is one of them. Cage goes into a hopeless battle and has an encounter with one of the Mimics. When he dies, he wakes up the previous day ready to do it all over again. He’s confused by what’s going on and as he continues to die on the beachhead, he tries to alter his path. It isn’t until he meets legendary soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) that he begins to put his time to better use.
Now, to call Edge of Tomorrow the ultimate video game film may sound like an insult, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This movie is great. What I mean by calling it a video game film is that the movie actually feels like a video game, and not because of all the CGI monsters running around. In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character repeats the same day over and over again inexplicably with no idea how to break the loop. With Edge of Tomorrow, Cage knows what’s happening to him—eventually—and more than that, he has a goal to strive for in order to break the perpetual loop he’s in. So, he uses his “infinite lives” to train and master combat so that he can continue to survive and reach his goal. It’s the same exact way gamers master each level of their games—dying multiple times—until they finally conquer the final boss.
The screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, based on the novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, is fairly tight. The time loop conceit works very well in that mostly everything makes sense—or at least I didn’t see any glaring errors. There are definitely elements borrowed from other sci-fi classics, but unlike Cruise’s last sci-fi vehicle, Oblivion, nothing feels like it’s ripping off previous films. That’s because the story is so solid. Surprisingly, for a film about the cusp of human annihilation, there are a lot of laughs in this one, but it is never forced nor does it change the tone of the film. The comedy is very organic and born of what is happening on screen as opposed to being overly jokey and crammed into the story. It’s a fun film, despite the dire consequences if Cage fails. The action is also great. As Cage gets better and better as a soldier, he accomplishes more amazing feats on the battlefield.
Of course, the film is not perfect. A few bits of the narrative are fudged a little in order to get characters to certain places, but I did like how the audience begins to pop into Rita’s point of view from time to time, as we’re never sure how many times Cage has done a particular thing. Also, especially towards the end of the film, while there are certainly challenges for Cage to overcome, some things came a little too easy for my liking. These elements never derail the film, though—these are minor, minor quibbles—but I did notice them. The Mimics also could have been better defined—Dirty A pointed out that they reminded him of the Sentinels from The Matrix. We are never truly clear on what they can do—besides be rolling death machines—and while they have a few tricks that are interesting, they ultimately come across as very generic evil movie aliens. Finally, 3D adds nothing to this film—yes, we saw it in 3D, but not by choice. It didn’t ruin the film-going experience for me, as was the case on last year’s World War Z, but it doesn’t enhance the film either. I’ll probably go see this one again in 2D, just to get the comparison.
The cast is topnotch in this one, with Cruise leading the way. He does a great job here conveying Cage’s transformation from outright coward to steely warrior. Blunt is also great as Rita. I would love to see her in more action fare like this, as she definitely has the chops for it. Bill Paxton puts in a funny performance as Cage’s Sergeant, while Gleeson does a fine job as the stubborn general.
Overall, Edge of Tomorrow comes right to the edge of incredible. It’s an immensely fun film with a standout performance from Cruise. It is definitely a must-see and one of the best films of the summer so far.