Edge of Tomorrow is Doug Liman’s (The Bourne Identity, Mr and Mrs Smith) Groundhog Day meets Aliens, and it is a successful and thoroughly entertaining collaboration of these genre classics. Jake Gyllenhaal’s repeated attempts to find a bomber on a Chicago commuter train in Duncan Jones’ Source Code also bears a resemblance to the loop Tom Cruise’s character finds himself in as he attempts to win a war against a destructive alien invader.
Dante Harper’s early version of the script, an adaptation of All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, was listed on the 2010 edition of The Black List, but went through several collaborated revisions by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) on the way to the screen. Despite the aforementioned derivations, this is one of the few big budget projects so far this year to feel fresh and possess the potential to surprise. Liman knows the ingredients of the summer blockbuster, and his thoughtful film strikes a compelling balance of high-stakes action spectacle, character-driven drama and timely injections of humour to ensure that its clever concept never wears out its welcome.
An alien race, nicknamed “Mimics” for their ability to replicate and respond to military combat strategies, has invaded the Earth and has taken over most of Western Europe. Humanity has begun to turn the tide of the struggle, with the creation of advanced combat suits and weaponry, and are driven by the inspiring victories led by Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). An assault has been planned for the coast of France, with a successful result expected. General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) orders Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a paper-pushing high-level military media consultant, to be at the front. But having never been trained for combat, he resists. Forcibly, he finds himself a member of J Squad under Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton), and on the frontlines for the assault.
The siege is an ambush, the Mimics aware of their arrival, and Cage is witness to a massacre. He is eventually killed detonating a bomb and taking out of one the enemy’s rare ‘Alpha’ Mimics, his death sending him back to the scene of his meeting with Sergeant Farrell, the ensuing training and following-morning deployment set to repeat on a loop if he continues to die in the battle. During one of his loops he saves Vrataski and communicates his unusual situation and knowledge of their inevitable decimation. The pair collaborates with Cage using the loops to train with Vrataski and try and find a weakness in the enemy.
Considering Cage’s experiences, the day-spanning gauntlet he has to navigate over and over again and witnessing members of J Squad and Vrataski die repeatedly, we can certainly sympathize with him. Imagine the frustration of making it just that little bit further than last time, solving one problem only to confront a new obstacle that will require the preceding period to be repeated before a re-attempt can be made. It is like being thrown back to the start of the level when you saw the end in sight. We don’t know how many times the loop repeats, but there is a deft handling of the progression of their mission. Just when we think the pair is living through something for the first time, we come to realize that it isn’t, in fact, the ‘first’ time. Cage’s knowledge of the events allows for the aforementioned humour, with the sharp editing instrumental in progressing the story through potentially tedious developments with zippy montages. What I loved most about this film was how the premise was handled.
Edge of Tomorrow might be dismissed as another Tom Cruise action vehicle and the actor’s troubled public persona may be a swaying influence on eventual box office takings, but Cruise has proven time and again – with the excellent trio of Mission: Impossible 4, Jack Reacher and Oblivion recently – that he can comfortably carry an action film, even now at age 51. This is one of most physically involving performances for the lovely Emily Blunt. She’s completely convincing as a hardened career soldier, and she reveals more about her character in the more intimate moments of the latter half than the script asks. Paxton has some great scenes alongside Cruise, while Australians Noah Taylor and Kick Gurry each play a key role in the mission.
There are a few things left underdeveloped and the repetitive dehumanization of soldiers - train, sleep, combat, repeat – isn’t as explored as it could have been, but the mission at the heart of it all is compelling enough. The Normandy-esque assault is in the vein of Spielberg’s portrayal in Saving Private Ryan and these combat sequences are a chaotic marriage of grandiose stunts and effects, and chaotic frontline documentation (courtesy of Dion Beebe’s in-the-moment style) establishing a tension that ripples throughout the film. The final act is equally heart-pounding as that initial battle, but in a completely different way.
I got wrapped up in this exciting futuristic action-thriller. The concept draws from the best of inspirations, and it really works. Count me as excited for whatever Cruise is involved in next because he’s on a roll.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22