Don’t let the marketing fool you. Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise’s latest venture into sci-fi action, may look in the commercials like little more than Groundhog Day with explosions, but given a closer look you’ll find a imaginatively conceived and consistently engaging thrill ride that will surprise you just about every time you think you have it figured out. Grounded by perfectly understated performances from Cruise and Emily Blunt, the film delivers the goods in just about every meaningful way in terms of what audiences should expect from a summer blockbuster, and thus it should not be missed on the big screen.
A cleverly constructed montage of international “breaking news” and war correspondence television clips introduces you to the film’s dire set-up: What was initially believed to be a meteor strike in the heart of Germany turns out to be the start of an alien invasion, and with lightning speed almost all of Europe falls to the mysterious and unrelenting enemy. In a desperate attempt to fight back against the aliens they come to call “mimics”, the world’s governments contribute soldiers and arms to a United Defense Force, and hastily put into service powered exoskeletons bristling with weapons that UDF soldiers wear as they wade into close quarters combat with the aliens. After countless losses in men and firepower, humanity achieves a huge victory against the mimics, led by the heroic efforts of sword-wielding super soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), and buoyed by their success the allies prepare for a major offensive to capitalize on their gains and hopefully end the war.
Enter Major William “Bill” Cage (Tom Cruise), a U.S. Army public relations officer who up to that point has basically served as the face of the war effort to the media, and who has himself never been in combat. When Cage finds himself unexpectedly sent to the front lines as part of the vanguard of the UDF’s assault, and thrown into the middle of a chaotic battle that goes horribly awry for the human forces, something even more surprising happens. Cage dies within minutes, as do most of the soldiers in the operation, but as soon as he does, he wakes with a jolt back at the start of the day, before the operation’s begun, with a chance to relive it all knowing what’s come before and potentially change the outcome. A chance meeting on the battlefield with Rita reveals that she, in fact, knows what’s happening to him each time he dies and the day repeats, and so she becomes his only ally as he lives the day over and over and over again, each time trying to get just a little closer to figuring out how to survive long enough to discover the mimics’ weakness and prevent the catastrophic failure of what will be mankind’s last stand.
Director Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity), working from a screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie (Valkryie, The Usual Suspects) and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (2011’s Fair Game, also directed by Liman), takes on the challenge of a story built around repetition after repetition of scenes and dialogue by use of dynamic camera work to keep moments audiences will know they’ve seen before feeling fresh and interesting. Plus, despite the grim surroundings and circumstances in the story, there’s a great deal of humor to be found in the different ways each of Cage’s days end, as well as his interactions with Rita, the career soldier and certifiable badass. Liman has always had a flair for snappy dialogue and character exchanges that keep audiences invested and entertained, going all the way back to his work directing the 90s indie hits Swingers (1996) and Go (1999), and he brings that talent to the table again here in amounts just big enough to provide color and flavor to the film without talking the action to death. As an audience, we never learn very much about the backstories of Cage and Rita, but we learn enough about them from their exchanges to understand and accept the believability of the working relationship between these two vastly different people, and enjoy how that relationship evolves.
Production design and art direction are the other important pieces of the puzzle as far as why Edge of Tomorrow works as well as it does. The practical exoskeletons worn by Cruise, Blunt, and the others cast as soldiers in the film are true marvels of movie making engineering, even in today’s world of superheroes and iron men. The fact that the actors are moving around at all in the metal monstrosities, to say nothing of running around or performing wirework acrobatics, is simply remarkable. Especially when seen in IMAX 3D, all that mechanized mayhem comes to life in an incredibly fun and unforgettable way. It has to be beheld as larger than life as possible to be truly appreciated.
Finally, the actors at the heart of all that mayhem, Cruise and Blunt, each deliver understated yet nuanced performances, giving audiences characters that are charismatic, yet still believable. For Cruise, playing the slick, smile-his-way-out-of-almost-anything guy forced into a situation where his charm means less than nothing is certainly not breaking new ground, but he’s once again able to convincingly convey that type of character’s discovery of something true within himself. Blunt, meanwhile, takes on a highly physical role unlike any she’s done in her Hollywood career, and she pulls it off as though she had a career as a stuntwoman prior to all her acting award nominations and wins. Also in terms of memorable appearances, watch for Bill Paxton as the only member of the ensemble allowed to play an over-the-top type character. He doesn’t have a lot of screen time as the blustery Master Sergeant Farrell, but he makes the most of the time he’s given by chewing scenery as only he can. He doesn’t make the movie, certainly, but he does make it even better.
Score: 4 out of 5
Edge of Tomorrow
Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brenden Gleeson. Directed by Doug Liman.
Running Time: 113 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material.
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