Edge of Tomorrow
Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson and Noah Taylor
Directed by Doug Liman
From Warner Bros. Pictures
Slick sci-fi premise sends Edge of Tomorrow sailing
by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
If The Edge of Tomorrow were just the sum of its parts — its internal mechanisms being Saving Private Ryan, Groundhog Day and War of the Worlds — then it would be a perfectly acceptable action blockbuster. But the film excels past its formula, soaring into the lower tiers of sci-fi greatness.
At the center of Edge of Tomorrow’s mech-suited bombast is Tom Cruise, who — no surprise, here — knows his way around a bonanza of futurist ideas and concepts. Few actors seem very interested in experimenting with science fiction, but Cruise is fearless at the genre, from Steven Spielberg’s one-two punch of Minority Report and War of Worlds, to last year’s fascinatingly ambitious, though hammy, Oblivion. Here in Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise plays Cage, a PR flack for the United States military. The opening moments show us a Starship Troopers-like flip-through of cable news, where we learn that an alien race has hijacked a comet and crash landed in Europe to breed like a bacteria. And there’s Cage, grinning like only a public relations geek can, as he analyzes the alien invasion with Wolf Blitzer.
In a slithery little PR move that reeks of bureaucracy, Cage is sent to the front lines of the alien invasion, where he’s fatally mangled during a gruesome D-Day-inspired beach-storming that turns out to be an ambush devilishly orchestrated by the sinewy tentacle-strewn aliens. But Cage doesn’t die, at least not permanently. He wakes up in the previous day, and only he’s aware of it. It’s as if the world reset back 24 hours just for him — and indeed it did. This is where Tomorrow’s intricate construction begins to shine: now in the second version of the same day, Cage makes tiny changes to his original delivery, which reveals different outcomes and permutations to the events of a day he’s already lived (and died) through. A complacent Cage yields one scenario, while an ambitious Cage gets another one entirely. Those familiar with Groundhog Day and Bill Murray’s oft-repeated routine — “I Got You Babe,” coffee in the lobby, Needlenose Ned, Punxsutawney Phil — will find Tomorrow’s version of the same concept to be a riot, including when Cage tirelessly attempts different stunts through several weeks worth of catastrophic deaths. I especially enjoyed Bill Paxton, playing a commanding officer, who is often perplexed at Cage’s apparent clairvoyance.
The finale to each of Cage’s days is the European invasion, which he can never survive — like a difficult video game level, but with unlimited lives. He’s crushed, impaled, shot, blown up, drowned, set on fire, eaten, chewed up, ground into a chunky paste … death knows no bounds as he re-lives the same day over and over again. He eventually teams up with Rita (Emily Blunt), who had her own neverending day a couple months before. She relived her day for so long that she eventually became a badass super soldier that earned her the nickname Full Metal Bitch. But her day ended, and now she latches onto Cage to try to crack this alien enemy, which uses time travel and forever-days as a tactic to refine their strategy. When she realizes he’s in the middle of one of the déjà-vu days, she tells him to “find me when you wake up,” and then promptly shoots him, starting another rebooted sequence. Later, they hunker down over topographical maps and sketch out their plan of attack; after each failure they make new annotations to their notes. The maps get quite cluttered.
Edge of Tomorrow works so well because its inventive with its concepts. I especially appreciated how the script assumed we would understand the material. When Cage finds Rita for the first time, he doesn’t have to spend 30 minutes convincing her. She knows what he’s going through, and the film doesn't torture us with his long explanation of it to her. And like Bill Murray’s weatherman in Groundhog Day, Cage dramatically goes through all the stages of grief as he wanders through the same day over and over again, whether its months or 10,000 years. The first week is spent in denial, trying desperately to win the invasion. Then he goes through anger and a nasty bout of depression, including when he lets a fellow soldier get repeatedly squished by a falling deployment chopper. And then comes acceptance, where the film kicks into overdrive as Cage finally learns how to crack the day. This isn’t as philosophical or spiritual as Groundhog Day, but it has its charms.
It also has its special effects, which are abundant and cleverly used. The big one is the mechanized suits worn by the soldiers. These hydraulic war costumes — kinky lingerie for cyborgs — seem too clunky and silly to wear into battle, but the plot builds much of every action scene around their overpowering ferocity. Although, Rita’s suit brings up a point I last brought up on the first Transformers movies: why would someone use a sword when they’re body is essentially one big gun? The other big special effect is the aliens, who move so quickly they’re hard to see until later in the movie. They achieve locomotion by spinning their squid-like arms around and rolling forward, like dust bunnies or tumbleweeds. They’re rather terrifying, with jump scares to prove it, but they’re generally harmless, if only because no one really stays dead in the movie.
Edge of Tomorrow is a fascinating and remarkably well-equipped science fiction film, one that allows Cruise to shine in a genre he has cornered for himself. The action and special effects are largely impressive, but the core science-fantasy mechanic bundles everything up nicely. That and the subtle chemistry of Cruise and Blunt, the latter of which is more than capable as an action heroine. It also embodies all that a summer movie should be: action, drama, romance, comedy, special effects, as well as some lesser-known pieces, like invention, wit, mystery and some light philopsophy. It’s doesn’t overdo or neglect any one element. It just finds a nice balance for all of it, and then snaps it all together in what might be the most worthwhile blockbuster of the summer.