Tom Cruise has made quite the name for himself as a reliable science fiction star. Notable mostly for Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report and War of the Worlds, Cruise also gave a phenomenal performance in 2013’s Oblivion before taking a leading role in this summer’s Edge of Tomorrow. Helmed by director Doug Liman of Bourne fame and also featuring English co-star Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow brings not only another fine performance from Cruise but injects originality and intelligence into the modern sci-fi blockbuster, a genre far too often crammed with mindless excess and a plethora of sequels and prequels. Audiences will be surprised at the humor, wit, cleverness and genuine character development Liman accomplishes in the film, and while it is no masterpiece, Edge of Tomorrow is a solid summer adventure that truly engages its audience with an original and exciting story.
The plot of Edge of Tomorrow is initially simple but grows in complexity. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a public relations officer in the United Defense Forces, which has been formed to combat an invading alien species known as the Mimics. The UDF is gearing up for an invasion to retake Europe, and Cage is stationed in London. After attempting to blackmail his commanding officer regarding orders to accompany a camera crew into combat on the first wave, he is stripped of his rank and shipped off to fight in the invasion as a private. During the invasion itself, which fails, Cage dies in the act of killing a Mimic, whose blood splatters over his body, only for Cage to discover he has reawakened the prior morning before the battle. Cage is stuck in a time loop, repeating the battle and waking up the previous morning every time he dies, and attempts to enlist the aid of the UDF’s finest soldier, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), known as “The Angel of Verdun,” who turns out to have experienced a time loop herself. Cage, formerly attempting to desert, is forced to slowly put together how to defeat the alien threat and save the UDF invasion from certain destruction.
On the surface, this may sound mind-numbingly repetitive, but Liman masterfully edits and cuts the film so that the audience sees different parts of Cage’s efforts each time through, rarely repeating material already established in the time loop unless for dramatic or comedic effect. In fact, this comedic element is one of Edge of Tomorrow’s greatest assets. Cruise plays against his typical role by portraying a cowardly and incompetent soldier, and several jokes regarding his trial and error attempts (not unlike modern video games) are uproariously hilarious. Liman also utilizes the time loop device to force the audience to pay close attention to dialogue and action. This might be popcorn entertainment, but it is certainly not mindless shoot-‘em-up entertainment. Some fascinating character dynamics are introduced as well. Cage, for example, continually reliving his attempts to defeat the Mimics, slowly but surely learns more about his comrade Rita and grows to care for her, but she, always beginning the loop again from ignorance, is unaware of the amount of time and effort Cage has invested in both her and their mission. The combined acting talents of Cruise and Blunt are a joy to to watch, and both lend a sense of depth and gravitas to their roles, supporting a concept and relationship that could have lost legitimacy and believability fairly quickly.
Cinematically, Edge of Tomorrow takes many cues from the D-Day invasion (making a June 6 release date no small coincidence) and the battle sequences are thrilling in both their scale and execution. Liman balances competing tones fairly well, keeping the humor dark but the drama and combat far from being too heavy and disturbing to make such jokes inappropriate. There are a few humor missteps early in the film, one sight gag in particular which is surprisingly immature considering the thoughtfulness of the rest of the story, but fortunately most of the comedy is genuinely clever. The final act is a bit predictable and standard compared to the fascinating time puzzles and dynamics that precede it, but these are minor complaints when considered in light of what the film gets right. Genuine character development for both Cruise’s cowardly Cage and Blunt’s tough-as-nails Angel of Verdun add much needed weight to the proceedings, providing people to root for and not simply points of view for action set-pieces. Edge of Tomorrow provides a good reminder of a lesson that the Michael Bays and bloated franchises of the world desperately need to learn: just because a film isn’t deep doesn’t mean it has to be mindless.