You should never judge a book by its cover or a movie by its title. But, come on, why did Warner Bros. and the producers of “Edge of Tomorrow” settle for such a bland title when the original one —“All You Need Is Kill” from the graphic novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka on which it’s based— was so much better? Too bad Seth MacFarlane had already used “A Million Ways to Die” for his universally vilified Western comedy –it was more appropriate for the Doug Liman-directed, Tom Cruise-starring science-fiction actioner.
Liman and scriptwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth shamelessly and smartly borrow and blend ingredients from such films as “Groundhog Day,” “Source Code,” “Aliens,” “Starship Troopers” and even “The Matrix” as well as the mechanics of any video game to create an entertaining, funny, thrilling and tense movie. They manage to make new what is beginning to feel old and formulaic. “Edge of Tomorrow” is more character-driven than your run-of-the-mill Hollywood blockbuster. It gives Cruise another opportunity to toy with and even laugh at the charismatic, overconfident persona he’s built over the years. And, most importantly, “Edge of Tomorrow” is NOT a franchise-driven film.
Cruise plays Major William Cage, the go-to PR guy in charge of putting a positive spin on humanity’s war against the Mimics, the invading alien force that arrived a couple of years ago via the Chelyabinsk meteor that entered Earth’s atmosphere over Russia. The Mimics have taken over most of Europe; the world’s forces are gathering in Heathrow for a final attack on the beaches of Normandy, (D-Day Part Two?). Called Operation Downfall, it could end in victory for the human race or the end of civilization as we know it.
General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) orders Cage to accompany the attacking forces and record the campaign. Cage refuses to go: this cowardly dweeb is afraid of battle. And no matter how much Cage smiles that Tom Cruise smile and tries to weasel his way out of his new orders (going as far as threatening Brigham), he soon finds himself in Heathrow demoted to private and accused of being a deserter. Under the command of Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton sounding like R. Lee Ermey’s, of “Full Metal Jacket” fame, sardonic cousin), Cage is given an exoskeleton and is quite literally thrown into battle: the helicopter transporting Farell’s squad is destroyed mid-air and Cage himself is killed by a Mimic on the sandy beaches.
Except…he suddenly wakes up at Heathrow, on the same spot where it all began. Turns out that he now has the ability to travel back in time and relive the events of the day after alien blood mixed with his own. So, Cage finds himself dying and reliving that day over and over, each scenario offering him the opportunity to fix a mistake. Try as he might, no one will believe he has that unique ability except for one person: Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) a.k.a. “The Angel of Verdun,” a.k.a. “Full Metal Bitch.” She, too, was once able to travel back in time over and over; that’s how she was able to defeat the aliens in Verdun. But Vrataski lost the ability after being wounded in battle. Seeing in Cage humanity’s last hope, she decides to properly train him, no matter how many times she has to kill him. Talk about déjà vu all over again.
The film’s plot device not only shows us the same sequence of events from different points of view and outcomes but also moves the story forward, taking advantage of and upending our sense of knowing what’s coming up next. The script has a lot of fun coming up with new and almost cartoonish ways of killing Cruise’s character. And just when we think we are seeing a brand new scene and think that we are experiencing an actual timeline, “Edge of Tomorrow” pulls the rug right from underneath us. By constantly hitting the reset button, “Edge of Tomorrow” is the closest a movie has come to recreating the video game experience.
It is equally refreshing to see that the leading female character in the film has the upper hand on our hero and that he is the one who has to become an equal partner. By eschewing the obligatory romantic interest at first and portraying Rita as a strong, no-nonsense woman who can meet any challenge, Liman and his writers are thumbing their noses at the stereotypical screeching Victoria Secret model that has become the norm in most of these films (yes, I’m looking at you Michael Bay). Blunt is game for this chance at overturning genre convention: she is absolutely brilliant as a fierce, determined warrior who rarely reveals her softer side.
Cruise is at his best when he plays men whose confidence is slowly stripped away from them or who sometimes find themselves out of their league. Cage is a perfect fit for Cruise. Cage’s charm and arrogant strutting are soon replaced by fear, bewilderment and pain. The look of horror in Cruise’s eyes as he first confronts the battlefield’s chaos is acting gold. And Cage’s transformation into a hard soldier is so subtle it barely registers until the third act kicks in high gear.
Even the final shot of the film subverts our expectations. It’s the mark of a director, his writers, cast and crew going that extra mile to inject some smarts into a tired movie genre. In “Edge of Tomorrow,” everything old is new again.