Groundhog Day, Groundhog Day, Groundhog Day. These are the only words critics are using to describe the recent Tom Cruise actioner, Edge of Tomorrow, as if that 80’s classic invented the concept of a time loop. Instead of cribbing from the Harold Ramis’ comedy, Edge of Tomorrow (AKA All You Need is Kill) feels thematically closer to the Duncan Jones’ film, Source Code, where Jake Gyllenhaal returned, again and again, to a Metra train in the hopes of preventing disaster. However, as opposed to the Jones’ film, Edge of Tomorrow transcends the problematic nature of its storytelling gimmick and remains an entertaining blockbuster throughout.
The stakes are also much higher in Edge of Tomorrow. An alien race named the Mimics has invaded Earth, decimating much of Europe in the process (although London looks completely unscathed). There is hope however. After years of brutal losses, a new technology has been invented: Cumbersome, mechanized and heavily armed exoskeletons are now the norm in warfare, which have given human beings a fighting chance against the invading horde.
Enter the Cruiser as Major William Cage, an army media guru who spends his time selling the war and bolstering enlistment numbers instead of firing guns or leading charges. After a moment of recalcitrance with his commanding officer (a cantankerous Brenden Gleeson), he is branded a deserter and thrown among the other low-level grunts right before one of the biggest (and most critical) battles of the war.
As expected, Cage doesn’t last long once he enters the fray. After getting dropped into the invasion site – a French beach which screams Normandy – he barely gets a shot off before some of the Mimics make mincemeat out of him. This introduces the film’s central premise: Cage doesn’t die. Instead, he wakes up back in the army barracks and is forced to repeat the process all over again. As the movie continues, and as he returns again and again to the field of battle, Cage runs across Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski: a lauded soldier famous for her performance in a earlier Mimic battle. In partnering with Rita (who inexplicably believes his frenzied descriptions of his predicament), Cage finds that he may be the very key to ending the war and saving humanity.
In setting up this premise, director Doug Liman and editor James Herbert cut the film with efficacy and style, largely avoiding becoming ensnared with anything that feels repetitious. The film is beautifully paced, containing just enough information to show Cage learning and becoming more skilled from reliving the same experiences. The film always feels like it possesses forward momentum. Liman and company also extract a great deal of humor out of material that could have been largely dour. For his part, Cruise offers some effective comedic work, utilizing a brilliantly over-the-top scream each time his character is brutally killed.
This quality allows Edge of Tomorrow to feel fresh and, in certain moments, damn near whimsical. It imbues the film with a tone that feels like a rebuttal to nearly every modern blockbuster, which are largely obsessed with capturing a gloomy ethos that is overbearing and unnecessary. Of course, all the special effects, not to mention Liman’s muscular and wonderful direction, would be utterly inconsequential without effective acting anchoring such a massive picture. Blunt and Cruise clearly have no intention of being sidelined by the film’s spectacle. As Rita Vrataski (nicknamed “Full Metal Bitch”) Blunt is extremely effective, giving a believable and affecting performance as someone hardened by never-ending war. Yet ultimately this is Cruise’s show, and as Major Cage he gives probably one of his most human performances in a decade.
His character grows by leaps and bounds during the story, starting with him being a yellow-bellied coward and then ending with ascension to gritty hero. It sees him gradually trade in his shit-eating grins for enraged battle cries. It’s a dynamic performance. And while you never really forget that its Tom Cruise on screen, his presence is never distracting. In fact, one finds the actor here at his most elemental, rising to meet the challenges of his true calling. In Edge of Tomorrow you have a film that values entertainment above all else. It’s for the most part an ephemeral (even derivative) exercise in scope and fun; but there is joy to be found in it, especially through Cruise, a pop entertainer who, even after decades in the industry, has still got it.