Edge Of Tomorrow (based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill, and its manga adaptation) takes what could be a rote, even stupid premise, and turns it into something exciting and incredibly satisfying. Tom Cruise is a bit of a sticky wicket these days, and while his off-screen persona is problematic, downright creepy even, you can’t say he doesn’t consistently make fascinating, even great movies.
Cruise stars as Major William Cage, a US Army PR stooge saddled with selling a losing war against an alien invasion to the general public. When he’s informed that he’s to be embedded on the front line of the final push to root out the invaders, he does what any PR stooge would do: he runs. Of course, he’s immediately caught and pressganged into a mobile armor suit he doesn’t know how to work with a squad that hates him and dies very quickly on the battlefield. Then he wakes up on the army base 48 hours earlier and does it all again, dying again and again, getting a little bit further each time until he meets another soldier (Emily Blunt) who has experienced the same time flashes he is having. Blunt’s character, RIta Vrataski, used them to hand the human forces their one victory in the war. She’s since lost the ability, but sees in Cage the chance to end the war for good.
From there we watch them act out the same battle, getting slightly closer to their goal each time. The movie really comes alive in this sequence, showing Cage coming along as a warrior and mining a lot of humor out of his multiple deaths. It also uses the time flashes to misdirect the viewer so you don’t know if Cage is experiencing this particular moment for the first time or if he’s already acted it out for three hundred. It gives Cruise a great chance to show his range, going from a Jerry Maguire-eque empty suit with a great smile and not much else to a stone cold badass, and it all feels earned. Even though the movie is two hours long, you believe you’re seeing Cage go through this for years and years, hardening to the horrors of war even as he’s become convinced of the need, and his unique ability, to bring it to an end. Emily Blunt is also great as a warrior who is celebrated for her important victory, but she is haunted because she lost the power and could only win a single battle with it. Bill Paxton also gets a fun turn as a hardass drill sergeant, playing Sgt. Apone to Cruise’s Hudson.
Doug Liman’s been kind of an enigma as a director. His breakout was Swingers, but that movie was devoid of any real visual style, and writer/star John Faverau has always seemed to get the lion’s share of credit. The Bourne Identity was his first studio success, but that movie was delayed over a year while the studio tinkered with it, and may be the first case of suits actually making a film better. That said, Liman acquits himself nicely here. While he doesn’t overwhelm the film with style, he does well in the action scenes, especially when he’s showing us events we’ve already seen in one of Cage’s previous lives, but in a new way. He’s also very good at communicating the otherworldliness of the alien invaders: their octopoid bodies and they move in jerky, stuttering motions that really set them apart from the usual alien monsters on screen.
The movie only really steps wrong during the finale, when Cage and Vrataski share an unneeded kiss. Up till then, Cruise had already sold so well Cage’s deepening feelings for Vrataski and his need to not only win the war, but to also make sure she survives it. The coda tacked onto the end seemed like an attempt to make it extra happy, which was wholly unnecessary. It also undercuts the value of a sadly rare badass female action hero to maneuver her into a romantic “reward” for the male lead at the last minute. Neither of those is a fatal error, but they just felt like the work of the studio not having confidence in the movie to tell its story without being obvious.
Edge Of Tomorrow completes kind of a career trilogy of alien invader movies for Cruise. First was Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds, which is a fantastic movie that gets a bad rap because audiences naturally assume it’ll be Cruise kicking alien ass on a giant scale, but instead it goes small. Cruise’s turn as a terrified father desperately trying to get his children through an alien-ravaged United States is amazing work, but as in the beginning of Edge Of Tomorrow, he’s basically a coward desperate to survive, not the usual square-jawed hero out to save the world. Just last year, Cruise starred in Oblivion, which was beautiful to look at but just too dumb to be enjoyable. Oblivion feels like a B-movie that somehow got elevated once Cruise signed on. It takes stabs at profundity and ultimately fails, but it still manages some excellent action scenes. Edge Of Tomorrow ties together the strength of both those movies in a way that it allows you to see Cruise’s character evolve from that initial mortal terror to the man that ultimately (spoilers) saves the world. Edge Of Tomorrow is an excellent summer movie: smart, exciting and even laugh-out-loud funny in the right places. Though the premise easily brings to mind Groundhog Day, this movie really stands out as something unique in a summer of sequels and adaptations of well known properties.
Edge of Tomorrow is in theaters now.