With its nebulous title, non-holiday release, and mild promotional push (certainly by summer tentpole standards), the seemingly generic sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow really hasn't been on anybody's must-see radar. So allow me to put it there for you.
Edge of Tomorrow is a visceral and intelligent thrill-ride, rigorously earning the cliché accolade, "If you see only one movie this summer, see this." There hasn't been a better theatrical experience since the start of May, and there won't be a better one through Labor Day (not to mention being an endlessly re-watchable entertainment on multiple home video platforms). It's that fun, it's that cool, and it really is that good – not in spite of Tom Cruise's waning appeal but, rather, because it's a showcase for all the things that made him one of the biggest movie stars of all time.
This high-concept futuristic D-Day, based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka's 2004 novel All You Need Is Kill, is sort of a Starship Troopers-meets-Groundhog Day on the beaches of Normandy. The earth has been attacked by a creepy alien race of creatures dubbed "Mimics," and humankind is in an all-out World War to save our species and reclaim the planet. Major William Cage (Cruise, Oblivion), an Army PR man not trained for combat, is thrust into the war effort's biggest invasion yet – and promptly dies.
Inexplicably, Cage suddenly awakens to a day earlier, discovering he's been thrown into a time loop that brings him back to the same starting point each time he's killed (something the movie is clever enough to play for laughs as much as it does suspense). What unfolds isn't the existential identity crisis of the aforementioned Bill Murray comedy classic; this is a high-octane mission with a mystery at the core that's both tactical and metaphysical, driven by a dramatic arc for Cage as he goes from entitled coward to courageous hero.
Cage's primary focus is to figure out how to save and assist the war's actual hero Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt, in another screen-commanding turn following Looper). Rita is, quite literally, the poster child of the war effort, an eco-skeleton clad cybertronic super soldier that is unrivalled on the battlefield. She's even gained her own mythic title, "The Angel of Verdun." Cage must help Rita locate the source of the aliens' power and destroy it.
The movie's promotional tag line "Live. Die. Repeat" does a good job of pitching the basic premise, but then it also belies the film's true complex nature. This is not a redundant narrative or static experience. On the exhilarating contrary, Edge Of Tomorrow is alive with invention. For a story about reliving the same day over and over, perhaps the film's biggest surprise is how full of surprises it is.
Instead of repeating the same exact moments with slightly different outcomes, the narrative is much broader in its trajectory. Learning how to survive doesn't simply improve Cage's chances in each repeated moment, but it leads to new ones (sort of like advancing through a video game, but without feeling like a formulaic structure). Instead of having to plod through the do-overs, director Doug Liman knows when we've seen the repeats enough and, instead, jumps to the next new moment where we can pick up and move forward.
Keeping a sense of propulsion, these new scenes – from one edit to the next – seamlessly jump between multiple rounds. As Cage tells several people when trying to convince them of what's happening: "I'm going to tell you a story. The first time, it's going to sound ridiculous. But the longer I talk, the more rational it's going to appear." That's how the movie tells its story too, and with accessible clarity. It really is an awesome feat of cinematic storytelling, editing, and structure.
It all unfolds with an equal mix of thrills, laughs, and spectacle, a perfect balance of tones that's not nearly this easy to pull off. Liman, the respected director of such films as The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Swingers, marks a new career-standard with his ninth feature. He crafts the kind of high-level populist cinema not seen since the mid-90s heyday of James Cameron (think Terminator 2, True Lies, Titanic), complete with Bill Paxton (Aliens and other Cameron films) in a scenery-chewing character role.
For Cruise, his performance marks a return to the form that made him a matinee idol. There's his patented intensity, of course, but he also taps into the charm, humor, and playful swagger that we haven't seen from him since Top Gun's Maverick. As Cage's connection with Rita grows, it's not to create an obligatory love interest; their camaraderie is rooted in the kind of respect and admiration that only soldiers can share (the fact that their relationship arc resonates without bogging down the pace is yet another of the film's not-so-minor miracles).
Despite the aforementioned and inevitable video game comparisons, Edge of Tomorrow actually feels like a movie and not just a barrage of computer animation. It also boasts an extensive use of real-life sets, set pieces, and stunts. It's ambitious, and it delivers. This is movie-making on a massive scale.
It's also the kind of PG-13 rating that actually seems appropriate, with intense action that's violent and scary but never gruesome, with occasional language that isn't vulgar, suggestive, or pervasive, making for an experience that could be too much for younger viewers but never tries to push the boundaries of the rating itself.
Big-budget entertainments don't get any more satisfying than this. Edge of Tomorrow doesn't just give you everything you want from a blockbuster; it gives you everything you dare to hope for.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: None
- Language/Profanity:Three S-words, three H-words, two A-words, one B-word, one mild vulgarity, and two uses of the Lord's name in vain.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: A male soldier's bare butt is briefly seen. A man and woman kiss.
- Violence/Other: Sci-fi war violence throughout. Heavy combat scenarios. Intense, often scary (especially when involving the alien creatures), and violent (but for the most part not visually graphic). A lot of soldiers being shot down, killed, attacked by aliens, etc. Corpses seen. The repeated killing of Cage's character, though not depicted graphically. The "Mimic" aliens are dark, big, and can be frightening. A man's face is severely scarred after an explosion, seen briefly. A person is stabbed in the leg. A man is crushed by a ship (not visually graphic).
Publication date: June 5, 2014
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