Edge of Tomorrow

Aliens meets Groundhog Day: Tom Cruise tries to save the world again, and again, and again...

Edge of Tomorrow

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Directed by Doug Liman. Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Jeremy Piven, Lara Pulver, Charlotte Riley, Jonas Armstrong, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Kick Gurry, Dragomir Mrsic, Lee Asquith-Coe, Madeleine Mantock, Tony Way. Written by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth, from the graphic novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroši Sakurazaka.

Here it is, the 2014 summer blockbuster to beat: Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow (forgive the awful title) is a high-concept, high-powered ride through – and through, and through – a D-Day-like assault on an alien menace that has invaded Europe, with our hero (played by Tom Cruise) continually waking up on the eve of destruction every time he’s killed in battle. 

The time loop concept is irresistible. In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s disgruntled weatherman finds himself stuck on February 2nd, with no way out; a similar fate awaits the hero of 12:01, which was first an Oscar-nominated short and then a 1993 TV film directed by Jack Sholder. Both films are so engaging I’ve often wondered why no-one else decided to borrow the same story device. 

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Until now. Those earlier films used the time loop premise as a metaphor for the mundanity of our day-to-day existence, but Edge of Tomorrow ups the stakes by both having its lead repeat the crucial day in the future of mankind, and giving him some clear goals (i.e., a way to get out of the loop and set things right). There’s a little less intrigue – and social commentary – going on here, but what the film lacks in thematic substance it makes up for in free-wheelin’ fun. 

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Cruise stars as William Cage, a U.S. Major with no combat experience who – as we see in a fast & loose opening credit montage – has served as a voice of propaganda for clunky metallic war suits that an international army employs to combat the alien menace. We can’t imagine anyone fighting fast-moving monsters in these hunks o’ junk (which recall Ripley’s Power Loader in Aliens), but the suit has created a military superstar in Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who makes mincemeat of the invading creatures in Verdun.

A little background: we don’t know where they come from or why they’re here, but the aliens have crash-landed in the middle of Germany, infected just about all of mainland Europe, and are quickly spreading outward (but no, don’t bother looking for any Nazi allegories here). The creatures (called Mimics) are whirling metallic junkpiles: a cross between the Alien creature design and a Transformers-like monster. But what they lack in personality they make up for in sheer terror: we rarely get a glimpse of their faces, but when we do, they make it count.

The gutless Cage is forced against his will to the front line of combat by a General (Brendan Gleeson) who seems to have it in for him for some reason, and he wakes up at the feet of a Master Sergeant (Bill Paxton, recalling his role in Aliens) with no way of talking his way out of his situation.

Cage ships off with J-Squad – comprised of the usual rugged collection of war movie clichés – for a French beach assault that reminds us of the Normandy sequence in Saving Private Ryan. His inexperience in battle quickly proves to be his downfall, but a funny thing happened on the way to the afterlife, and Cage wakes up right back where he started, at the feet of the Master Sergeant. 

Repeating his first day of combat for an eternity, Cage quickly becomes battle-hardened, and tracks down Blunt’s Vrataski and a military scientist played by Noah Taylor for support. I don’t want to spoil anything – a lot of the fun in movies like this comes from the hows and whys of the central conceit – but I was surprised how logically the time loop scenario is explained. It ain’t satisfyingly sci-fi ambiguous, but it’s a perfect action-movie device.

Director Doug Liman (who gained fame with Swingers and Go in the 90s) has been up and down through the blockbuster realm, following up the franchise-starting The Bourne Identity with the abysmal Mr. & Mrs. Smith (which, nevertheless, made money) and Jumper (which didn’t). But he re-gained some cred with the Valerie Plame drama Fair Game, and has burst back onto the Hollywood landscape with Edge of Tomorrow, which is his most expensive (at a $175 million budget) – and, I think, best – film to date. 

He’s working from a script by Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth (Fair Game) and Christopher McQuarrie (who wrote and directed the underrated Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher), who have adapted the novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. That was the film’s original title, and infinitely superior to the ultra-bland Edge of Tomorrow

We get so few thoughtful sci-fi pictures in mainstream cinema that I’m willing to forgive (to some extent) flawed but imaginative features like Transcendence or Cruise’s last film, Oblivion. But Edge of Tomorrow needs no such charity: pairing a fascinating premise with action-packed sci-fi a la James Cameron’s Aliens, it’s simply a blast.

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