Perhaps I should start this by saying I’m a Tom Cruise fan. It’s kind of popular to dismiss him these days, to roll the eyes at his latest action movie. Maybe it’s our culture’s tendency to knock a big star down a peg, to declare a guy past his prime or a relic of a bygone era.
But I enjoy Cruise’s movies. While he occasionally comes off as trying too hard to impress — especially as he gets older — I love that he does most of his own stunts. When you see him jumping off a rooftop or dangling from a crane, that’s usually Cruise doing it himself. The guy is putting everything he has into his performance, busting his ass for our entertainment.
Yet maybe Cruise is guilty of playing the same type of role too often. Recently, he’s frequently been the bad-ass operative who’s really good at beating people up in the Mission: Impossible movies, Knight and Day, and Jack Reacher. That last one may have been a bit of stretch for him, given that he doesn’t come close to matching the hulking traits of the reclusive drifter from Lee Child’s novels. However, Cruise was still believable in the role because he sold it physically and knows how to carry a film.
A willingness to play with that image is what makes Edge of Tomorrow so entertaining. Cruise’s William Cage is not a heroic figure, though his rank of major and the uniform that comes with it portray otherwise. Cage is a figurehead, someone the military offers to networks like CNN and BBC to sell its operations (including the story’s signature exoskeleton battle suits) to the general public with a smile and tone of authority. He may look the part of a soldier, but he is most certainly not a fighter.
So when the general in charge of the war against an alien invasion that’s wiped out most of Western Europe decides it would be great PR for Cage to take a camera crew out to the front lines and convince people that the military is winning this battle, the telegenic talking head balks. He basically only plays a soldier on TV. Confronted with going into actual combat and facing likely death, Cage tries to get away.
Tom Cruise, run from a fight? Yep, that’s right. Cage is thus labeled a deserter (a term holding even more significance in light of current events) and forced to join the first wave of attack. As could be expected, his superior officers and fellow soldiers don’t view him favorably and delight in making this cowardly candy-ass suffer with weapons he hasn’t been trained to use in a situation where he’ll surely be killed.
And yes, Cage is killed. As you likely know, this is where the true premise of Edge of Tomorrow begins. Cage is indeed killed and then wakes up back at the beginning of his ordeal, when he’s first dropped off at a military base and rudely greeted by a barking sargeant. He again goes through trying to convince his Master Sargeant (played by Bill Paxton) that this whole thing is a mistake and he shouldn’t be there. But Cage is thrown in with the grunts yet again and sent out to the battlefield — where he’s killed again. Reset, repeat.
The inherent joke is that if you don’t like Cruise, you get to see him killed over and over again. Though the aliens — called Mimics, for some unknown reason — move so fast that Cage is often dispatched quickly, without the viewer actually seeing how he dies. So if you’re hoping to see Cruise continually impaled, eviscerated, decapitated or torn apart, you might be slightly disappointed. Those grisly fates are left to your imagination.
As Cage eventually learns to take advantage of his recurring circumstances and make different decisions to try and affect new outcomes, he encounters Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the heroic face of this war effort. That’s another pleasant surprise of the movie: Blunt is the bad-ass here, the ruthless killing machine wiping out Mimics, carrying a ridiculous sword that you’d only see in a video game, until she’s overwhelmed by peripheral carnage or sheer numbers.
Blunt doesn’t play the token love interest we see in so many of Cruise’s movies. Though disappointingly, the story does hint toward a potential romance as it nears the end. I would argue, however, that the difference is that you can see why Cage would eventually develop feelings toward Vrataski, rather than the female co-star falling for Tom Cruise because he’s Tom Cruise saving the world.
Vrataski is the only one who believes Cage when he says he’s reliving the same day repeatedly — because she once experienced the same circumstances. Knowing that Cage can eventually become a better soldier and possibly figure out a way to defeat the Mimics by cycling through the battle scenario over and over, Vrataski offers to train him.
This provides an opportunity to see Cruise get his ass kicked repeatedly by both Vrataski and the robots used to simulate (mimic?) the Mimics. His leg gets broken, his back is broken, he’s swatted around like a tennis ball. And when Cage encounters a scenario that he can’t escape from and the outcome is assured, he resets the entire situation by dying.
Director Doug Liman mines the constant reboots for laughs, making Vrataski all too willing to shoot Cage in the head when failure is imminent. Even when he wants a temporary reprieve from what he knows is coming, she doesn’t waste any time. This isn’t going the way we’d like. Bang. Dead. Start over.
Liman uses this device to prevent his movie from becoming boring or tedious, which is something that sort of bogged down 2011’s Source Code, which had a similar sci-fi time loop concept. (Although I liked that film.) Though we initially see the same scenario with slight variations to establish the premise, the director soon jumps ahead to new story points, making sure each reset moves the story forward and gives us new information.
This also allows for some surprising character development. It’s not all action (though there’s a lot of really good action here). We eventually learn that the continual resets have enabled Cage to get to know Vrataski better, as hard as she might try to keep her defenses up. It also becomes apparent that there’s a great emotional toll to seeing someone you begin to care about die repeatedly. That gives Cage some pathos, which makes him much more compelling as the movie progresses.
Edge of Tomorrow might suffer a bit from being a tough sell. You could call it a sci-fi Groundhog Day for shorthand, and that’s probably enough for most people. But while talking about the movie to someone shortly after I saw it, I had some difficult explaining how this all takes place. (And coming up with a headline for this review? That took several resets.)
The explanation given for Cage going through this time loop is a bit flimsy, but you just have to accept it because the plot keeps moving. (And how realistic does it have to be, considering it’s a story about fighting multi-tentacled aliens?) To its credit, the movie doesn’t stop to provide exposition. It accepts what it is, hopes you’ll do the same, and just propels forward.
Besides, it’s not like this is the most far-fetched movie you’ll see this summer. However, it may very well be the most entertaining, giving your brain a little bit of stuff to chew on, rather than assault it with loud noise and quick-cut CGI visuals. If you feel like resetting Edge of Tomorrow, I’ll bet it’s because you want to watch the whole thing over again. And maybe again after that.