What if, when you died, your life reset, shifting time back to the day before your death so you could live those hours over again, figure out where you may have went wrong, and try a different scenario that could give you a better chance at survival — sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right?
Now put yourself in the shoes of William Cage, a United States military officer and spokesman who spends the majority of his time away from the battlefield, pouring over ways to promote the works of active duty troops in the press. Consider, too, that: the entire planet is under a years-long attack by a smart, fast-moving alien species called Mimics; your new assignment, after being stripped of your rank and demoted to Private, is to storm the beaches of France with no recent combat training and face the enemy head on; and your life resetting means beginning anew shortly after waking up at Heathrow, where you’ve been deployed for your newest engagement.
Probably not a situation you consider so ideal, I would assume, but such are the circumstances facing Cage as he seeks to find a solution to turn the tides and end the war, dying each day only to resurrect, reset, and try again, slowly making progress over the course hundreds of attempts at the game that has become his life.
This is the setup for Doug Liman’s new Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow, in which Cruise stars as Cage alongside Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, and Brendan Gleeson. A science fiction tale heavy on action and surprisingly funny, too, the film is redundant by nature, and yet, ultimately a very fresh take on a lot of not-so-new ideas. To say the film works well would be a bit of an understatement.
After dying his first in a long line of deaths, Cage begins to formulate hypotheses on what is happening to him, and why, explaining to his peers that he’s already lived through these same events, but they don’t believe him. That is, until he lives through several more loops and comes across Rita Vrataski (Blunt), heartwarmingly known as the “Full Metal Bitch.” Vrataski witnesses Cage’s ability to anticipate events on the battlefield and convinces Cage to come find her the next time he wakes up, and he does.
As it turns out, Vrataski used to have the same abilities as Cage, but has since lost them. Building on Vrataski’s experiences and continually training to be a better soldier in combat, Cage works through various stages of the military’s invasion in attempt to find and kill the Omega, an alien consciousness that controls the Mimics and whose downfall would bring about the end of the alien race.
That’s the story, without spoiling much, but the true stars here are the characters, which is rare to find in a summer blockbuster. The movie has more than its fair share of action and awesome effects work, but the characters — namely Cage and Rita Vrataski (Blunt) — are really well written and are developed with precision and care as the film moves toward its final frame.
Cruise and Blunt are a terrific one-two punch, he a proven action star and she one who I hope to see rise to similar genre fame. Though both are great, Blunt steals each scene she shares with Cruise; that could be seen as a feat considering she isn’t the film’s primary lead, but it’s not entirely a surprise given the narrative arc she has to work with. Blunt displays immense range as Vrataski, exuding both strength and vulnerability while maintaining just the right mix of both at every juncture.
Cruise, of course, is solid as he always is in film’s like this. He is one of the biggest action stars of this generation, and that absolutely comes across here, but he also mines a lot of humor from his character’s situation, which keeps the film light and fun throughout. There is a moment where his character is forced by an officer to do pushups, an opportunity Cage uses as to attempt an escape, only to be killed in a dark but shockingly funny way, his loop reset to make another attempt, which leads to additional humor.
Bill Paxton is good, too, as Master Sergeant Farrell, Cage’s new officer upon his arrival at Heathrow. The rest of the cast is well pieced together, serving the story well and never feeling out of place.
Two other standout aspects of the film, aside from its characters, are its storytelling and its editing. As Cage lives the same events over and over, the film could easily become overly redundant and cause the audience to lose interest. However, there are multiple scenes where we are clued in to the fact that Cage has lived through certain events, not by showing the events explicitly or using extensive exposition, but by slipping dialogue or visual hints into scenes that provide context and any narrative information we need. It seems an obvious thing to do, but it’s so rarely done these days that it truly deserves applause. Liman’s direction is highly competent here, a cut above the films he’s made in the past (Bourne Identity included).
The film is so stylishly put together, and through its storytelling and editing it manages to walk a near-perfect balance between being a serious take on the perils of war, a humorous look at the fragility of life, and a legitimately fun outing that brings the thrills again and again, loop after loop.
By now, you’re probably aware that Edge of Tomorrow made the Hollywood equivalent of $0 at the domestic box office this past weekend — just under $29 million in revenue against its massive $178 million budget — losing to the small-budget teen drama The Fault in Our Stars and the dark, gritty Disney tale Maleficent. But please, don’t let that stop you from getting out to the theater and seeing this smart, funny, action-packed sci-fi treat.
Edge of Tomorrow
Grade: ★★★★½ out of ★★★★★
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material
Runtime: 113 minutes