Hey, want to watch Tom Cruise die over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and
I’m gonna tell you a story. The first time, it’s going to sound ridiculous. But the longer I talk, the more rational it’s going to appear…
If I were to describe a film with the following ingredients, let me know when I would lose your interest:
1: A sci-fi thriller (“Cool, I like those!” you say)…
2. Directed by Doug Liman, known budget-blower and difficult collaborator, who hasn’t really made a truly exceptional film (“But I liked The Bourne Identity,” you counter, “and Mr. & Mrs. Smith was… a movie that I saw,“)…
3. With a story based on a Japanese Manga (“YES!” like two of you respond; “NO” say most of you) that’s basically Groundhog Day-meets-Starship Troopers (“Huh?”)…
4. And it stars Tom Cruise.
On the one hand, if you really don’t care for Tom Cruise, you owe it to yourself to see Edge of Tomorrow, because he dies like a thousand times, often hilariously.
But on the other, if Tom Cruise is not a problem for you, you still definitely owe it to yourself to see Edge of Tomorrow, which is an ambitious, high-concept piece of incredible summer entertainment, and he is fantastic in it.
I could go either way on Mr. Cruise myself; I don’t really care for him personally (like, as a human being), but I enjoy the Mission: Impossible films a great deal, and you have to admit how great he is at running away from explosions. Probably the best in his field, actually. In fact, at one point in this film, when he was trying to avoid an explosion while in a field, I said to myself “there’s a man out standing in his field.”
He took a bit of a nose-dive with the Katie Holmes/couch jumping thing, and Scientology is really, really, weird, but Spielberg has stuck by him (Minority Report and War of the Worlds are totally underrated), and he can be a great actor even though he only ever plays his parts the exact way Tom Cruise would. Sometimes, it must be said, you need Tom Cruise to play the Tom Cruise part. No one else can. Good job good effort, Mark Wahlberg, but you are no Tom Cruise.
So, all that said, what to make of Edge of Tomorrow, formerly known as All You Need Is Kill? Well, Cruise stars as Major John Cage, a Major who has never been in combat; instead, he’s with “media relations,” serving as a ubiquitous talking head, keeping the news networks and their viewers informed on the State of the War: a war that humanity is losing, and losing badly. The enemy is a mysterious force known as “Mimics,” jerky spaghetti monsters who act in a hive mind and have the handy ability to predict what human soldiers will do; as in, when we make progress, they simply reset time and destroy us after the mulligan.
The international military force is planning a full-scale assault on the continent of Europe, where the Mimics have killed millions; it’s a make-or-break, do-or-die, Game-7, pick-your-cliche situation, but this time will be different: why? Because we’ve developed high-powered exoskeletons, capable of taking a beating while firing hundreds of bullets and rockets and basically everything. One woman, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), managed to fight off a whole battalion of those spindly aliens in humanity’s only victory to date, so we know we can beat them.
The commanding general (Brendan Gleeson) orders Cage to be embedded in the front lines to document D-Day for the public, an order that the cowardly Cage balks at (because it will almost certainly get him killed), which leads to him being arrested, knocked out, and shipped off to the base as a “deserter.” Cage, now a private, is quickly dropped in with “J Squad”: a motley crew of castoffs and misfits, commanded with Big Kentucky alacrity by Sgt. Farell (Bill Paxton). The invasion is tomorrow; they’re all going to die — and die they do.
But for reasons I won’t spoil here, Cage — after blowing himself up with one of the aliens — suddenly wakes up back in the staging area, on the previous day. Confused and terrified, he must play these same 24 hours out over, and over, and over again, eventually connecting with Vrataski (she had the same thing happen to her, you know), and learning the secrets of the Mimics while slowly getting better in combat: advancing just a little bit further up the beach before swiftly getting bombed or eaten in a new and exciting way.
What perhaps you don’t expect about Edge of Tomorrow is how funny it is — and Cruise is very much in on the joke, playing the smarmy, craven card to the hilt for the first 20 minutes before evolving into something much more effective…and, dare I say, heroic. He trains with Vrataski, becoming stronger and more confident, but every minor injury earns him a bullet in the head and a reset to the previous day — frustratingly tedious for him, a treat for us. We’re only given a glimpse into the utter banality of hearing Farell’s introductory spiel for the infinity-ith time, which would drive a lesser man mad, but our man is Tom Cruise.
An action extravaganza for the Xbox Generation, Edge of Tomorrow taps into that very familiar drive to survive the most difficult video game levels: each time you attempt it, you learn a little bit more, until you memorize the patterns and the steps, internalize them; it becomes muscle memory. Cage tries to win people over with parlor tricks — he learns their names, their backstories, and their deepest secrets the longer he is stuck in the loop, and he uses that knowledge to his advantage — but it’s his dominance in the field that ultimately earns him respect. And Blunt, whose Vrataski is known throughout as “Full Metal B****,” is every bit his equal: not only matching Cruise’s physicality, but his command of the screen. She’s just awesome, and they’re pretty awesome together. You put her performance here next to The Devil Wears Prada, and your head might explode from the cognitive dissonance.
Liman keeps the pedal to the floor the entire time, and despite the inherent repetitiveness of the screenplay (largely credited to Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote The Usual Suspects and directed Cruise in the middling Jack Reacher), Liman manages to keep things consistently fresh and surprising. The Normandy beach assault, while intentionally echoing Saving Private Ryan, is massive and terrifying in its own right, while the gallows humor in Cruise navigating around one death trap only to immediately step into another is played to the hilt. It’s just wildly entertaining, and everything summer cinema should be — if you’ve been complaining about the dearth of quality, original fare, this is the answer to your prayers.
The ending is a little bit too pat; there’s a lot of room for allegory and nuance that the script and direction choose not to touch, and it frankly doesn’t make much sense. But fortunately, it isn’t enough to mar Tomorrow’s unexpected success. The Groundhog Day jokes are apt, but only on the surface: while that film was about Bill Murray pulling off the “perfect day,” Cage quickly realizes he has a much more singular goal, and should he succeed, everything else will take care of itself. For Doug Liman, that’s landing this Triple Salchow of a story pitch, and delivering Tom Cruise’s best film in years; it’s not a perfect 10, but it’s close enough.