Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson
Director: Doug Liman
Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
One could do worse in terms of big budget Hollywood escapism than Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow, a high-concept sci-fi action thriller starring the ubiquitous Tom Cruise trying to save the world from squiggly alien thingamabobbers. A well-crafted, imaginative melding of genres, the film is pretty ridiculous on its surface, but thankfully never takes itself too seriously for most of it's running time before, as is custom with these types of things, it finally does. The main reference point seems to be Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray was forced to replay the same day over and over again, but more than anything, the film resembles a very expensive video game, both in terms of it's visual aesthetic as well as it's narrative thrust.
Cruise plays Major William Cage (a hilariously generic character name that speaks to Cruise's penchant for taking on hilariously generic characters), who, as the film opens, has refused a direct order from his superior officer played by a grumpy Brendan Gleeson. Told to report to the front lines for a large-scale attack on the beach against alien creatures, Cage does his best to get out of the proceedings, but ends up being stripped of his rank and thrown into the infantry as a traitor. Despite his bumbling attempts at dissuading a staunch drill sergeant (a goofy Bill Paxton), Cage gets tossed into what amounts to a Normady beach slaughter-fest where humans are annihilated by squid-like tentacles and explosive carnage. The sequence is a dizzying assault on the senses, like watching a coked-up maniac playing a video game version of Saving Private Ryan, and effective inso far as getting a CGI-induced migraine is effective.
The film's mojo rests on the screenplay's ability to reframe the action multiple times with slightly different results, going for that Groundhog Day/Source Code/The Butterfly Effect notion of changing behavior due to the restarting of particular scenarios. The reasons why Cage continuously wakes up with a military goon barking orders into his ear are convoluted and silly, but the mechanism behind the gimmick isn't really important. What matters is how such a gimmick is used, and whether or not something so familiar can be reworked in interesting and engaging ways. The script, credited to Christopher McQuarrie and Jez/John-Henry Butterworth, is cleverer than one would expect, with streaks of dark humor and nifty surprises around every corner. For the film's first half, Edge of Tomorrow plays almost like a violent screwball comedy, with Cruise doing that Cruise thing where he looks befuddled and surprised before eventually figuring everything out and being a step ahead of the action. There's also a kick-ass heroine named Rita (a game Emily Blunt), who takes to fighting the alien baddies with a gigantic sword for no other reason than a gigantic sword looks significantly more badass than any other weapon. But more than anything, Edge of Tomorrow is a live-action video game in which we watch Cruise's avatar die over and over, restart the level, get a bit further in the game, and accumulate the proper knowledge in order to beat the game's final boss. Some of this is undeniably entertaining, (such as a recurring montage of Blunt's warrior shooting Cruise in the face), while at other times, the effect grows tedious, such as watching that jittery opening action sequence for the third or fourth time in a row.
The most intriguing aspects of the movie has little to do with thundering action sequences or whether or not the unmotivated CGI-enhanced aliens will wipe out all humanity. Rather, the film seems to locate that very specific idea about Tom Cruise the unwavering movie star, initially deconstructing that formula only to revert back to the fervent superstar mythos that's dominated the actor's career for the past few decades. As the film begins, Cruise's usual bravado is masked by uncertainty and fear; he's a cowardly officer more comfortable speaking on TV in front of a teleprompter than engaging in battle, and Cruise uses his movie star quality to disarming effect here. We half expect him to break into that slightly disturbing smile and shout something loudly with machismo, but instead he's a bumbling fool, unable to take control of his own destiny. Of course, as the film proceeds, and with the aid of Blunt's training, Cruise slowly goes from a man terrified of the unknown into, well, Tom Cruise, a man willing to run directly into a time loop without so much as a second glance.
While the first half of Edge of Tomorrow is briskly entertaining, with snappy editing and Cruise winningly playing it dumb, the film's third act is an absolute bore. Once the narrative shifts to fully embracing the Tom Cruise movie star paradigm, complete with him athletically battling a slew of computer generated villains, the movie devolves into yet another mediocre summer blockbuster. Since the die/ restart/ die video game model is the order of the day here, the film has very few moments of legitimate tension. Limon does his best with the explosive action, but there's a distinct feeling of exhaustion and tediousness that sets in as things crawl toward the 2-hour mark, and the more Top Gun Cruise gets, the lazier and less interesting the movie becomes. Still, for a June summer movie, Edge of Tomorrow is made with genuine zest and ingenuity. It's just too bad that at 51, Cruise still feels the need to continuously thwart the aging process, denying us the acceptance that even he, too, may even be a mere mortal. Sure, he dies multiple times throughout Edge of Tomorrow, but only so that he can resurrect himself, again and again, until he fully embodies his own self-formed messianic persona.