Last year when Oblivion came out I wrote a different sort of review that read like an imagined conversation between Tom Cruise and that film’s director Joseph Kosinski. It was quite fun to write, though not overly informative, and I chose to do so largely because of my ambivalence toward the movie, which was a dithering mish-mash of stolen ideas sloppily compiled into a disposable waste of two hours. Edge Of Tomorrow looked to be exactly the same thing, and so I went along thinking how it might be fun to reprise this idea whenever Tom Cruise decided to make another shit sci-fi film.
You’re not getting part two of that series, at least not this time. Because, despite my worst intentions, Edge Of Tomorrow threw a mightily big curve ball at me. Here’s the thing… it’s actually pretty good. Let me go out on a limb here… despite some obvious flaws… it’s very good.
Not that you’d think so to begin with. The beginning is, quite honestly, shockingly bad. Opening with a barrage of clunky, unconvincing faux-news footage and spurious CG graphics, Edge Of Tomorrow takes the risky gambit of bringing the audience up to speed Southland Tales-style. It’s not the first time exposition is very awkwardly shoehorned into this movie, but it sets expectations particularly low. Follow this up with a stuffy, rigid introduction for Cruise’s cowardly anti-hero Cage, and you’ve got the kind of inauspicious opening that’ll have the more jaded viewers squirming in their seats.
But then something rather unlikely happens. Edge Of Tomorrow worms its way into you, burrowing in by reminding you, enthusiastically, why you grew up loving sci-fi action movies in the first place. This is ultra-high-concept bonkers hokum, but the kind that has no qualms about accepting as much and hurtling itself forwards at full-force anyway. And it has Bill Paxton in it. Bill Paxton. “Game over, man.”
Game over maybe, but in this game you can always reset. Edge Of Tomorrow might as easily have been called Infinite Lives or, more appropriately, All You Need Is Kill, seeing as it’s an adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel of the same name. Hands in the air here; I haven’t read the book and can’t guide you as to the fidelity to the source material. I can only present you with Edge Of Tomorrow as I encountered it; a snowballing ride of very familiar ideas that happily held itself together on sheer adrenaline and some nifty visuals.
If you’re in the dark, plotwise, then a meteor has crashed to Earth and out of it an alien race known as Mimics have sprung to wipe us out. Cruise’s Cage is a military PR man who gets drafted into service while on a charm offensive in London; bagged, tagged and shipped to the front lines for some suicidal Normandy-beaches-style slaughter. Cage dies horribly… except he wakes up approximately 24 hours earlier, very much alive, reliving the same day over and over again. He is destined to get this day right, and (through a lot of trial and error) save the human race. And maybe overcome his cowardice too.
Already you’re getting the sense of deja vu in play here, and not just Cruise’s. Principally there’s the Groundhog Day plot gimmick that underpins the film, one not helped by the recent Source Code already giving it a slick little remix. Edge Of Tomorrow isn’t done pillaging from other films yet though. The blast’em-up revelry of Aliens is keenly in the peripheries of director Doug Liman’s vision, so too the tentacled menaces of The Matrix, the tech-heavy armory of Elysium and, outside of the sci-fi canon, even Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket which is pointedly referenced in a number of visual motifs. Edge Of Tomorrow looks set to play out as Oblivion did, burden by its own familiarity.
Yet Liman’s film manages to bypass the hang ups which usually come with such feelings, accelerating preposterously into the distance, outstripping a lot of recent sci-fi actioners on sheer enjoyment level alone. Chiefly what surprises is that, for an idea that defines itself through repetition, Edge Of Tomorrow keeps changing up the story, evolving, pushing forward into new territories. Think the whole film’s going to be about surviving the beach-front battlefield? Wrong! That’s just the beginning…
As alluded to previously, Edge Of Tomorrow also succeeds by allowing itself to be fun. Ignoring the recent trend for super-seriousness in fantasy and sci-fi, Liman and his horde of writers unashamedly play for laughs, knowingly playing on the fact that Cruise has a certain public image and reputation. There’s a strong element of schadenfraude in watching him die repeatedly. Liman knows this. So, presumably, does Cruise, and this movie reminds you what a good sport the megastar can be, even if grabbing for a 12A rating denies the bloodthirsty any real indulgences. There’s always a sharp cut or a last-second pan away…
Cruise is solid, initially irritating, but that’s intentional. Once the story sweeps the character away, he delivers the goods in a workmanlike fashion, and the character’s evolution is smoothly realised. He gets solid backup from Emily Blunt as war-hero Rita. Their adventure and inevitable part-way-amnesiac romance is telegraphed in from their first moment of screen time together, but that’s kind of what you’re turning up for with this movie. Edge Of Tomorrow dances nimbly between ticking boxes on a focus group score card and giving the audience an experience that resembles a fresh movie, but really isn’t one.
Props also to the creative team behind the Mimics – like a cross between a whirling tumbleweed and one of The Matrix‘s unstoppable sentinels (with a touch of xenomorph in there for good measure), they burrow and spin through the film in pursuit of Cruise and Blunt at such speeds that the audience craves a closer look.
This is by no means a perfect film; let it slow down for just a second and the internal logic starts to teeter like a Jenga tower, while those exposition scenes are staggering ham-fisted. There’s also a fumbled coda which suggests exhaustion from the screenplay crew after what must’ve been a rigorous session of rewrites and tweaks to keep this gangly story together. Step out of the film’s bubble and it also feels a lot like watching someone else play a video game. One where, if you die, you have to start over right from the beginning. It’s Takeshi’s Challenge starring Tom Cruise. With aliens. The film also shrugs off any attempt at social comment or deeper philosophical pondering. The elements are there for Liman to play with, but he opts instead for a popcorn guzzling adrenaline ride.
A missed opportunity? Maybe. But you’ve got to admit that, as an adrenaline ride, Edge Of Tomorrow does everything it’s supposed to, and quite a few things you wouldn’t have expected either. Because of this, the film scores a lot of good graces that argue in its favour. Not just because of Emily Blunt, but this is the best film of its kind since Looper. Play again?