I didn’t initially plan on seeing Tom Cruise’s latest blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow, at the cinemas. The well-publicized Groundhog Day device applied to a sci-fi premise didn’t feel all that enticing to me, and neither did the fairly stock-standard trailers I had seen. In the end, I was swayed by good word-of-mouth reviews and decided to give it a shot. And I’m glad I did. Edge of Tomorrow is everything you could hope for in a summer blockbuster — exciting action, tremendous special effects, superstar power, and just plenty of old-fashioned fun.
The story is actually based on a Japanese light novel called All You Need is Kill, in which the protagonist is placed in a time loop that keeps bringing him back to the day he dies in a war against aliens who have invaded Earth. Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage (a nod to the Japanese protagonist Keiji), a PR man of sorts for the NATO-lead United Defense Forces in their fight against the alien race called the “Mimics.” He’s not exactly a likable guy, and for that he ends up being on the front line in humanity’s last-ditched effort to topple the Mimics once and for all. Then, as the “Live. Die. Repeat” tag line suggests, Cage is forced to live the same day over and over again until he can either defeat the Mimics or the time loop ends. The only person who can help him is Sergeant Rita Vrataski, played by Emily Blunt, a giant sword-wielding warrior affectionately nicknamed the “Full Metal Bitch.”
It’s a synopsis that sounds almost typical, and in many ways Edge of Tomorrow is straight and predictable. Having said that, I was surprised by what an enjoyable ride it was. First of all, despite the time loop, the film never feels repetitive (my main fear). There are of course some parts that are repeated, but for the most part the script does an excellent job of varying up what to show audiences and throwing in little differences and curve balls to keep things interesting.
Another strength is its ability to switch tones between serious and funny with apparent ease. We feel Cage’s pain, frustration and helplessness at his situation, but we also have plenty of fun with it when the movie tells us it’s OK. Many of the deaths Cage has to endure are actually lighthearted and in some cases quite hilarious, as is a lot of the banter he has with army leader Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) and the members of J Squad, a ragtag team of crazy rejects he has been assigned to.
Most of all, the film comes at audiences at a finely tuned pace — relentless enough so that you never have time to stop and think about all the plot holes or things that don’t make sense, but not so fast that you lose track of what is happening or the sci-fi explanations you’ll need to grasp. Speaking of which, I was impressed with how smart and efficient the film was in explaining Cage’s predicament, including WHY everything was happening to him. For me it was important to know that the time loop had a reason, and director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith, Jumper, Fair Game) does a great job of creating a “believable” premise and helping audiences in suspending their disbelief.
The action is finely executed and goes hand in hand with the top-notch special effects. The human soldiers wear these mech-warrior suits that remind me a little of Elysium (but are actually quite commonly seen in Japanese anime) and look very convincing in both their design and movements. The Mimics have a unique look with a body that is constantly changing, and they move so fast that there’s no mistaking that they are not from this world. The only complaint I have is that the enemy, as often is the case in these invasion movies, are essentially generic robots that don’t serve any purpose other than to overwhelm our heroes with sheer numbers.
The performances are fantastic, as you would have expected with any Tom Cruise film. Say what you want about him, but Cruise, at 51, is still looking great as an action hero. He may be the craziest “technically sane” man alive off-screen, but when it comes to making movies, Cruise has always been the consummate professional. His trademark intensity shines throughout the film and he is superb whether as a conniving coward or a courageous soldier. Emily Blunt also looks like she had a lot of fun making this, trading her stereotypical image of the prim and proper damsel in distress for baddass warrior (who also happens to be in incredible shape). A lot of scene-stealing supporting roles too, including from Paxton and Brendan Gleeson, as well as Aussies Noah Taylor and Kick Gurry.
At 113 minutes, Edge of Tomorrow is about right in terms of length and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The thing that almost ruined the film for me, however, was the ending, which I felt did not match the rest of the film’s high standards. In the beginning I was confused, but then I realized it just didn’t work. I think it’s a reflection of the fact that the script had to undergo several rewrites and that they went into filming without having finalized the ending.
Apart from that, Edge of Tomorrow is a surprise summer hit that ticks all the right boxes. I don’t think it’s Tom Cruise’s best sci-fi — that honour would have to go to his all-time classic Minority Report — though I believe it ranks right up there at either No. 2 or 3 along with the underrated War of the Worlds.
3.75 stars out of 5
PS: Tom Cruise has actually only starred in five sci-fi features: Vanilla Sky, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow