I’ve got to admit that I sat down in the theater to watch Edge Of Tomorrow with a sense of dread. The last two Tom Cruise movies Jack Reacher and Oblivion were amongst the worst of his career and director Doug Liman’s last few movies like Jumper and Mr. And Mrs. Smith weren’t that great either. Then there was the premise that ripped off the time-loop reality concept of one of my all-time favourite movies Groundhog Day for what seemed to be an uninspired and generic sci-fi blockbuster. And yet, somehow I walked out of the theater deeply pleased by what I’d just seen. Edge Of Tomorrow might not exactly be the most original blockbuster to slide onto screens this summer, but it is undoubtedly one of the most creative and for the middle hour or so, it even inches close to being brilliant. In spite of that irritatingly generic title, Edge Of Tomorrow will likely end up being the most pleasant surprises of this year’s summer movie blockbuster season.
The film opens up with a montage of news reports describing an alien invasion in Europe with apocalyptic potential. Humanity is about to make one last push of power armor enhanced alien combat and Tom Cruise stars as a pretty faced military poster boy who shows up on all of the news reports to encourage folks to sign up for the army and lose their lives for the good of humanity. Of course, he has no intention of fighting. All he intends to be is an inspiring talking head until a steely faced General (Brendan Gleeson) insists that he go to the front line. After attempting to talk and blackmail his way out of combat duty, Cruise is knocked out and wakes up on the front line where a snarling Bill Paxton assigns him for powered battle armor combat amongst a group of military grunts. Cruise is confused and out of place, marching straight to his death and pausing only to admire Emily Blunt as a notorious ice queen alien killer (lovingly dubbed the “full metal bitch” by her fighting companions), and to get splattered with alien blood.
Then things get interesting. Cruise wakes up on the morning of the attack once more and repeats the day exactly a la Groundhog Day. He dies again and wakes up, then the cycle repeats. Gradually he gets better on the battlefield through pattern recognition and eventually he mentions his plight to Blunt who, as it turns out, became such a killing machine by going through the same experience herself. Turns out those pesky aliens being fought have a leader who controls time, and after being splashed by alien blood, Cruise has inherited their power. Blunt then trains him into a super soldier, shooting him in the face anytime something goes wrong to repeat the process. It’s a section of the movie that Doug Liman (on a good day, the man behind Swingers, Go, and The Bourne Identity) milks for dark slapstick laughs. There’s a definite Looney Tunes element to the movie and some heaping doses of poignant tragedy. As the repeated day wears on, Cruise becomes more weary. His jolted awakenings come through mounting frustration and pain. The clever script (written by The Usual Suspects’ Christopher McQuarrie, amongst others) hits its high mark through a series of sequences in which the audience is unsure of just how many times Cruise has been through and or mastered the same series of events. The time loop gimmick is milked for a maximum amount of comedy, tragedy, and suspense, working rather wonderfully at its peaks.
The movie also feels like an interesting tribute to video games in a way that can’t be accidental. While the repeating process eventually transforms Cruise into an action movie killing machine, it happens through endless deaths and pattern recognition. Edge Of Tomorrow might not be based on a videogame, but that conceit cleverly recreates the experience in such an effective way that it’s shocking no one used it in a videogame movie before (but then again, no one particularly creative has been in charge of a videogame movie before, now have they?). Cruise delivers one of his best performances in years in the central role, gamely rising to the unique acting challenges of the movie’s structure admirably and finding ways to mine all of his skill with comedy, drama, and hero posing. Almost as impressive is Emily Blunt, who steps into an action role after a career primarily defined by delicate character comedy and delivering the goods. Along the sidelines, Liman wisely populates the supporting roles with character actors like Brendan Gleeson and Bill Paxton who clearly have a ball delivering variations on a theme. Liman holds the film together incredibly well as the director, delivering action scenes with the ground-level intimacy that he brought to The Bourne Identity and filling the screen with visual flourishes and repeating editing tricks without ever drawing too much attention to technique.
Unfortunately, when the script hits the third act, all of the time loop creativity is ditched for a more conventional action finale. The final 20 minutes or so remain quite exciting and satisfying but never reach the creative heights of the oddball middle hour. After first viewing, it’s also hard to say whether the ending comes together tightly with all of the weirdo time-travel games that came before. It feels like there might be some holes in the logic, and the aliens aren’t exactly the most inspired movie monsters ever designed. Still, any problems the film has are minor and more distractions than devastations. Despite its flaws, Edge Of Tomorrow is a genuinely engaging and exciting blockbuster bursting with wit and ideas in a manner that is quite uncommon for a movie of this scale. It might not be a masterpiece, but this is easily Tom Cruise’s best movie in years and one strong enough to suggest that the guy won’t be releasing his stranglehold on Hollywood stardom any time soon.