If, like me, you made the switch from going to see a movie because Tom Cruise was in it to going to see a movie despite Tom Cruise being in it a while back, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in “Edge Of Tomorrow” (not least of all the many, many times his character meets a sticky end). But don’t be dismayed if you’re a devoted fan of the world’s favourite Level VII Operating Thetan; you’ll enjoy this cracking, clever Sci-Fi actioner as well – because he’s great in it.
In the near future, Earth has been invaded by a parasitic alien race nicknamed “Mimics” who landed in Germany and spread out to conquer much of mainland Europe from there. After fighting a losing battle on all fronts, humanity has just achieved their first victory at the Battle of Verdun, thanks to new exo-suit technology and the leadership of Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt).
On the eve of the allied invasion of Europe, American Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a cowardly advertising executive turned Army PR man is ordered to the front by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson). Cage tries to weasel and blackmail his way out of joining the troops so Brigham has him arrested and branded a deserter. Forced to join a ragtag cannon fodder infantry group, Cage finds himself on the front line with no training and no idea what to do. Through blind luck, Cage manages to kill an unusually large Mimic, getting saturated in its corrosive blood as he does so. Abruptly, he wakes up again at the start of the day when he was declared a deserter. He lives out the same day over and over again, gradually learning to anticipate events but when Vrataski realises what he is doing, she tells him to come and find her when he wakes up because he alone may hold the key to ending the war.
If you’ve ever played the EA game “Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars”, you’ll find a lot of the imagery and texture of this film quite familiar and like Cruise’s previous Sci-Fi vehicle “Oblivion”, “Edge Of Tomorrow” owes a major debt to other films. The opening narration comes perilously close to being an edgy sci-fi reboot of the “Dad’s Army” title sequence but the clearest ancestry here is “Groundhog Day” and “50 First Dates”. Don’t worry though, this is no romantic comedy and despite its derivative roots, the story it tells is innovative, compellingly tense and action-packed.
It really is refreshing to see Cruise, for a while at least, play against his all-American hero type and be the sleazy, corruptible, weasely Cage as he gradually learns not only to accept his curse to ‘live, die, repeat’ but to actively embrace it and use it to change his destiny. Emily Blunt, on the other hand, is all badass from the beginning and really delivers in the tough, no-nonsense role of the ‘full metal bitch’ of the propaganda posters. There’s superb support from Brendan Gleeson, both mad-eyed and moody as the Commander of the Allied Forces and a swaggeringly imperious Bill Paxton as Master Sergeant Farrell (who in my own personal imaginary connected universe is a distant ancestor of Private Hudson from “Aliens”). Noah Taylor even pops up playing a somewhat similar role as he did in the Tomb Raider movies.
“Edge of Tomorrow” is, as you’d expect from director Doug Liman, an action movie with brains and although by its nature the plot is full of twists, turns and blind alleys, it manages to keep itself moving forward with a lean, muscular clarity, never becoming confusing and never taking itself so seriously that there’s no room for the occasional lighter moment. The gradual revealing of the plot is a delight thanks to the cleverly assembled trailers wrong-footing you without actually lying; meaning that how you think this might unfold isn’t how it actually goes down. The production design is gritty and realistic, with the Mimics themselves particularly unnerving as they seem to occupy an unknown space between the organic, mechanic and digital. Their movement, in particular, is a wonderful touch: so unlike any creature on Earth, it really underscores their alien nature.
Up until the last three minutes, the movie is a Sci-Fi action masterpiece but unfortunately there are three closing scenes which absolutely reek of focus group feedback, the result being “Edge Of Tomorrow” ends on a massive cop out. Without those three small scenes (which could be cut without difficulty or disruption) the end note of this movie would be a bittersweet and pyrrhic one but would complete, in spectacular and classical fashion, the hero’s journey Tom Cruise’s character has been on. Thanks to these three scenes, this powerhouse of a movie fails to stick the landing and in its last moments, stumbles back into the Hollywood mainstream. It’s a real shame, too, because this was on course for full marks.