“What I am about to tell you sounds crazy. But you have to listen to me. Your very lives depend on it. You see, this isn’t the first time.”
No, this isn’t the first time. Tom Cruise seems to be making a habit of these science fiction action movies of late. There was Oblivion and War Of The Worlds, and quite frankly Edge Of Tomorrow looked to be pretty much more of the same. But there’s a huge difference between this film and the previous two. Edge Of Tomorrow is actually good. What looks on the surface to be just Groundhog Day with futuristic toys turns out to be a redemption story that I actually never saw coming.
It started when a meteor hit Germany some years before. Suddenly Earth was under attack from a horde of tentacled aliens bent on mankind’s extermination. They’re called mimics for reason I never quite caught. The war hasn’t been going so well. Television propaganda attempts to make things look better than they really are, and the united Earth forces are about to launch their final thrust offensive. It’s called Operation: Downfall, and it’s D-Day for Earth’s chances. It is no accident that the film releases in America on the 70th anniversary of the real D-Day.
Major Cage (Cruise) is a cocky PR guy whose job it has been to sell the world on a more positive spin of the war effort. He’s a coward who freely admits that he only took that job to be safe from all the fighting. He almost brags about his attitude with a smirk that just won’t quit. Think Jerry McGuire here. He’s meeting with the leader of Earth’s forces to talk about covering Operation: Downfall. When General Brigham (Gleeson) wants him to cover it while imbedded with the troops, Cage’s yellow streak reveals itself, and he attempts to blackmail the general into giving up on that idea. It probably was a big mistake.
Next thing he knows Cage wakes up on a carrier where he’s told that he’s a private who was caught attempting to desert. He’s scheduled to fight with the troops the next day, and no one is buying his story about getting railroaded. He’s strapped in a battle suit and put on an ill-fated drop ship headed for a more literal downfall. He doesn’t even know how to take the safety off his weapon. Master Sergeant Ferell (Paxton) assigns him a babysitter but jokes that the job won’t take very much of his time. It’s prophetic, and Cage is quickly killed.
Next thing he knows he’s waking up on a carrier where he’s told he’s a private who was…. Did I say that already? Now he has a story to tell that’s even harder to sell than the one about him being a Major. He tries to tell them that he’s been through this all before and warn them of the failure of the operation. Of course, no one believes this story either, no matter how many times he goes through the same experience and even when he has uncanny knowledge of things that are about to happen. It always ends the same. Drop ship’s hit. He ends up getting killed. That is until he meets a woman known as the Angel Of Verdun, Rita (Blunt). Her cryptic message before getting killed is…
“…Find me when you wake up.”
She recognizes his experience because she once had the same skill. She gets him together with a Dr. Carter (Taylor) who explains that he was tainted by the blood of an Alpha. It’s why the mimics are winning. Whenever an Alpha is killed in battle, they reset time with the knowledge of the upcoming day. They always know when the attacks are coming, including Downfall. He’s told that eventually he’ll start getting visions of an Omega. These are huge buggers that control all the others in a sort of hive intelligence. Hopefully, it’ll tell him where this vital cog is located so it can be taken out. One problem. He must die each time. If he’s wounded and has his blood replaced, he’ll lose the time jump ability. It’s what once happened to Rita. With each repeating day he trains to become a better soldier and attempts to track down the elusive Omega. He can save Earth…if he has enough…time.
The material is based on the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sikurazake. I can’t speak for that material, because while the concept itself isn’t particularly original, the depiction here really is.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt I could say this, but credit Tom Cruise with one of the best performances of his career. It’s not so much his action work but the transformation of the character that makes or breaks this film. The supporting cast with the exception of Emily Blunt are really only background noise. The focus is on Cruise and his many resets. But the fine accomplishment here is that he takes Cage from the cocky coward to a man willing to lay down his life to save the human race, and eventually without hesitation. Honestly, the beautiful part is that you don’t even know that it’s happening. Director Doug Liman uses the resets to perform some sleight of hand. These resets can be humorous and even annoying at times but all the while, just beneath the surface in subtle ways you don’t even notice at first, Cage is evolving into someone else completely. Cruise handles the transformation with a subtlety I haven’t seen from the actor before.
Emily Blunt does as much of an unexpected turn here. Again I didn’t see this kind of role in her repertoire. She shares pretty solid chemistry with Cruise, and it’s a growing kind of thing that the pair sells quite effectively.
The action sequences and battle scenes are some of the best that modern f/x can provide. This is Saving Private Ryan intensity here. It’s the most realistic futuristic battle scenes I’ve ever seen. I’m not in love with the alien design at all. We’ve seen this kind of creature too much of late. It’s easily forgiven, because the environments and action will keep you immersed in the film at all times. The 3D elements are as natural as they get. No fancy gimmick provided here. It’s all part of a larger landscape that pulls you in deeper with each passing frame. (Can I use that term any more, I wonder?) This feels like D-Day, and it feels like the turning point of a global war.
I only have two real complaints with the film. I think the ending taints Cage’s heroic actions a bit and doesn’t remain faithful to the dire circumstances the film builds toward. The second complaint is almost unavoidable. There’s a temptation to get a bit silly and redundant with the resets. It’s a flaw I can forgive only because Liman uses it so well and doesn’t waste his flirtations with our patience. It’s all for a grander cause and all of that.
Our very own John Ceballos commented that the film captures the video-game-playing experience quite well. He’s right. We all know the drill. You get to a certain point. Inevitably you die and end up at some saved waypoint that can get pretty frustrating as you have to wind your way through those parts of the game you already mastered just to get to the point you can’t seem to get beyond. You’ve all felt it, and it’s obvious that Doug Liman has found himself stuck in one of those loops a time or two himself.
It’s a summer ritual we all have come to look forward to. People like Tom Cruise and Doug Liman make these huge films that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. What do we do? We sit in our seat and escape for a couple of hours. Maybe we laugh. Maybe we cry. Sometimes we even learn a thing or two. Mostly we have a good time. “That’s what we do.”