Edge of Tomorrow (2014) / Sci Fi-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material
Running Time: 113 min.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way, Kick Gurry, Franz Drameh
Cameo: Jeremy Piven, Erin Burnett
Director: Doug Liman
Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth (based on the novel and manga, "All You Need is Kill", by Hiroshi Sakurazaka)

Review published June 6, 2014

Tom Cruise in another big-budget science fiction vehicle that's not easy to readily separate from one of his other recent releases (Oblivion, War of the Worlds, Minority Report), but don't let its familiar premise or generic title fool you; it's a quality effort.  The difference here is that Cruise isn't playing a cocky guy with a chip on his shoulder, but rather a weak-willed man who has no desire or skill to fight -- at least initially. 

The events of Edge of Tomorrow take place in Earth's future, where Europe has been invaded by a horde of dangerous aliens that we've dubbed 'Mimics', who have been adapting to humankind's defense strategies all too well.  The world has become a military state, as just about every able-bodied person is recruited to the cause of fighting the Mimics, donning giant weaponized super-suits that serve as an exoskeleton that makes its wearer very fast and very strong, if they have the ability to use it properly.

The big mission for this movie involves the taking back of France from the Mimics, who seem to be on the run.  General Brigham (Gleeson, Safe House) leads the effort, commissioning Major William Cage (Cruise) to put the best face on the effort to the viewing public, even though his lack of combat experience doesn't give him much of an expertise on just what's going on in the battleground.  He's very averse to getting close to the arena of combat, only to actually become an unwilling participant after he arises to find himself at London's Heathrow Airport, then shuffled off against his protests into joining a squadron of mecha-warriors about to drop into the front lines.  His squad is doomed from the start, and the day ends with Cage's death. And rebirth -- he lives the same day over again.  And over again - each day's death resets to the time he wakes up. 

Cage's efforts to survive elude him, but he finds some surprise assistance from a highly-skilled Special Forces operative named Rita Vrataski (Blunt, The Wind Rises), who knows from firsthand experience the reasons why he is stuck in his perpetually redundant life-and-death cycle.  Together, they devise to get Cage 'battle-ready' for the defeat of the Mimics once and for all, though they have to be perfect - he'll have to find a way to put an end to them in the course of an entire day.

Comparisons to Groundhog Day are inevitable, as it features the same gimmick of a man forced to relive the same day of his life over again until he gets it right.  The comparison is noted in the works of original author Hisoshi Sakurazaka himself, as he also called his main female character 'Rita' in what could have been a nod to the Ramis opus in the character played by Andie McDowell.  Other than this, however, they're quite different in execution, and one might rightfully compare the dynamics of how Edge of Tomorrow plays out to the experience of playing a video game.  In a game, we enter a new level not knowing how things will play out and usually end up dying as a result, only for us to start over at the beginning of the level to do things over again.  Except each subsequent time is different, because we know some of the surprises that lurk for us, and can master it once we get the sequence of events right and hone our skills with the controls.  Perhaps it's not a coincidence that the film, which is very loosely adapted from the cult manga and novel, "All You Need is Kill" by the aforementoned Sakurazaka, resembles a 'Halo'-esque scenario of people in hi-tech suits and vehicles battling hordes of dangerous aliens across massive landscapes.

As solid as Cruise is in his role, and though he does start the film off as a bit of a coward, he soon enough becomes the action hero we're used to seeing in big-budget films he is in.  What's different here is the tough-as-nails female protagonist mentor, portrayed in an adept fashion by Emily Blunt, who definitely has trained for the demanding physical role.  In some ways, as we get to the film's cataclysmic climax, we're not entirely sure which of the two characters will take the lead, which is one of the film's strongest suits, and not typical for traditional Hollywood story arcs.  Though the movie largely avoids becoming a romance, there is enough of a strong hint of attachment that grows in Cage's character that gives the action scenes some choice nuance, as we know that not only is he trying to save humanity for certain destruction, but he's also trying to figure out a way for both of them to survive at the end of it.

Although Edge of Tomorrow is a grim premise with action sequences that show in full detail the grisly nature of the combat, there is a surprising amount of humor sprinkled throughout, including in the repetition of the killing off of the main character, who must die before the end of each unsuccessful day for reasons I won't spoil here.  This also helps immensely with the tedium of seeing certain scenes play out repeatedly, which could have been the Achilles heel of the plot were it not for the fact that we're invested in seeing how the scenes will eventually play out beyond their limited scope, but also are amused when things go completely awry.

Though he hasn't been a prolific director in recent years, Doug Liman (Jumper, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) has put himself back at the forefront of action-movie directors again with his most ambitious work to date.  Working from a constantly retooled script from The Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie and previous Liman collaborators Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Fair Game), it may disappoint fans of the Sakurazaka work expecting a faithful adaptation, but it has become its own thing, even if it's a Hollywood thing.  Liman, along with an army of computer graphics professionals who painstakingly create just about everything we see once on the vast battlefield, make the scenes of war both crazy and intense, showing the chaos that such a scenario would naturally have, but also not so cluttered that we can't follow what's going on.

The Mimics themselves are interesting to watch, as they are lightning fast beasts with whipping tendrils that unleash a lot of destruction, thought the action at times does resemble the battles between humans and squids in The Matrix Reloaded, though at least Liman knows when enough is enough.  Some might even make comparisons to Starship Troopers, though with far less camp and surreal, violent behavior.

As so often happens with films with a lot of build-up to its gimmicky premise, the ending of the film is a bit of a deflation, both in its boss-battle climax as well as the epilog that will likely confuse many viewers by introducing a narrative development that isn't quite in keeping with the rules already established, but some will have fun theorizing what it all means.  With each repeated viewing, we come in with more knowledge of what's going on and how things play out, but we'll always be trapped by the construct of what we're watching (or playing). We might always be more savvy to the steps with each press of the replay button, but in the end, it's always the same dance.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo