Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise’s latest venture into sci-fi action, may look in the commercials like Groundhog Day with explosions.
Give it a closer look, however, and you’ll find a imaginatively conceived and consistently engaging thrill ride.
Grounded by perfectly understated performances from Cruise and Emily Blunt, the film delivers the goods in just about every meaningful way.
What’s it about?
A cleverly-constructed montage of international “breaking news” and war correspondence television clips introduces you to Edge of Tomorrow‘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. With lightning speed almost all of Europe falls to the enemy humanity comes to call “mimics.”
Desperate, the world’s governments contribute soldiers and arms to a United Defense Force. That force hastily puts 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, led by sword-wielding super soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt, “Looper“). Buoyed by their success, the allies prepare for a major offensive to hopefully end the war.
Enter Major William “Bill” Cage (Tom Cruise). A U.S. Army public relations officer, Cage has himself never been in combat.
When he finds himself unexpectedly sent to the front lines as part of the vanguard of the UDF’s assault, he’s thrown into the middle of a chaotic battle that goes horribly awry for the human forces.
Then something really strange 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. It’s before the operation’s begun, and he has a chance to relive it all, knowing what’s come before.
A chance meeting on the battlefield with Rita reveals that she, in fact, knows what’s happening to him. She thus becomes his only ally as he lives the day over and over again.
Each time they try to get just a little closer to figuring out how to survive long enough to discover the mimics’ weakness. It’s their only hope to prevent the catastrophic failure of mankind’s last stand.
Repetition to maximum effect
Director Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) helms Edge of Tomorrow, working from a screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. Liman takes on the challenge of a story built around repetition after repetition of scenes using dynamic camera work to keep moments audiences will know they’ve seen before feeling fresh and interesting.
Plus, despite the grim circumstances in the story, there’s a great deal of humor here. Much of it surrounds the different and often painful ways each of Cage’s days end.
His interactions with Rita, the career soldier and certifiable badass, also spark lots of quippy fun. Liman has always had a flair for snappy dialogue, going back to his indie hits Swingers (1996) and Go (1999). He brings that talent to the table again here in amounts just big enough to provide color and flavor.
Credit McQuarrie, too, with a strong script that makes a little go a long way. He doesn’t, for example, give much about the backstories of Cage and Rita.
He does, however, give enough about them for audiences to accept the believability of the working relationship between these two vastly different people, and enjoy how that relationship evolves.
Cruise, Blunt shine
Finally, the actors at the heart of all that mayhem, Cruise and Blunt, each deliver understated yet memorable performances. They give audiences characters in the midst of all that carnage that are charismatic, yet still believable.
For Cruise, playing the slick, smile-his-way-out-of-almost-anything guy forced is certainly not breaking new ground. However, 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 previously. She pulls it all off as though she had a prior career as a stuntwoman.
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 get a lot of screen time, but he makes the most of the time he’s given, chewing scenery as only he can.
He doesn’t make the movie, certainly, but he does make it even better.
Art and Production design are the other reasons why Edge of Tomorrow works as well as it does. The practical exoskeletons worn by the cast 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, 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 a fun and unforgettable way.
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.