Edge of Tomorrow

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★★★1⁄2

‘Edge of Tomorrow’ directed by Doug Liman is a total blast; a superbly entertaining, effects-driven black comedy. It isn’t so much a time travel movie as much as an experience. If that statement doesn’t make sense at the moment, give this ‘Groundhog Day’ meets ‘Independence Day’ flick a watch, and you will (hopefully) see what I mean.

Earth is under attack by alien invaders known as Mimics – they are destroying cities and killing millions. Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) has become a figurehead for the resistance using specialized armor and weaponized suits; she is terrific for armed forces morale. The American Army’s PR Officer, Major Bill Cage (Tom Cruise), appears on news shows around the world to put a positive spin on the war from a safe distance. But, when the general (Brendan Gleeson) wants to send Cage into the movie’s version of D-Day to film the invasion, the officer attempts to blackmail his way out of seeing combat; a surprising choice for the role of hero – he has zero combat experience. Cage is arrested, and tasered; when he wakes up, he has the rank of private and is being mobilized out of Heathrow, with a cheerfully maniacal drill sergeant (Bill Paxton) preparing him from the glory of battle.

The supposed glory occurs the next morning, but it’s a disaster – the soldiers are ambushed. By total luck, Cage outlasts most of his comrades, even killing an unusually large alien, who bleeds all over him before killing him. At which point, he wakes up at Heathrow again.

Cage remains persistent at trying to change the sequence of events, but he keeps dying and waking up and dying and waking up over and over again. He always knows he has been here before, that he has met this person, said that line, did that thing, goofed up somewhere and died. Nobody else does, though. ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ mines this mechanic for dark humour as we see Cruise getting shot in the head over and over (pushing the bounds of its MPAA PG-13 rating; the violence is bloodless, but intense). After bumping into Rita a few times on the battlefield, she tells him “Find me when you wake up.”

It turns out Rita has experienced the same temporal dislocation that Cage is now experiencing until a blood transfusion stripped her of those abilities. Rita has to turn Cage into a solider so that the two can save humankind.

Science fiction movies have a tendency to fetishize military technology; and so, I found the “jackets” in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ – ugly, bulky, bionic suits armed with machine guns and other weapons and worn by the ground forces of “tomorrow” to be a refreshing change of pace. Their controls aren’t the least bit intuitive and the batteries are crappy. The attack, subtitled Operation Downfall, is poorly strategized; ammo is scarce, and the transports end up killing more troops than they are able to deploy on the ground. Topological spaces consist of rough textures, and hulking machines, and mechanical creatures who speedily buzz around the frame.

Cage’s feelings for Rita are complicated by the fact that each time they meet, it’s for the first time. In such a relationship, their love for each other can only be expressed by killing the enemy. Or by fixing each other’s battle wounds. I am glad that they dialed the potential for this romance back.

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Tom Cruise in this role. Sure, it’s not the performance of his career (that would be ‘Born on the Fourth of July’), but he seems to have mastered the ability to look great doing anything from any angle. Cruise has always been a likeable actor; it has been 28 years since ‘Top Gun’, he is almost 52 years old, and he is still an action star. But, age is finally bringing forth his vulnerability and this gives the film its poignancy. ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is simultaneously about what it is about while also serving as a metaphor for the actor’s career: this is an actor you can’t bring down, even in Hollywood’s current universe of computer generated creatures, robotics, and explosions.

If the rest of the cast doesn’t give the same impression, it is only because this is Tom Cruise’s movie and he brings it (though the rest are still given enough to work with). Gleeson, as always, injects humanity into his stock character. Some of Paxton’s reactions and lines of dialogue made me laugh loudly. Blunt is convincing as the fearless super-soldier, and there’s even a little bit of heart to her fierce, no-nonsense character. Mr. Liman is in love with his entrance shot of this character; in which we see her rising from the floor of a combat facility in a vinyasa yoga pose over and over again.

Early in the picture, Cage starts out as a Jerry Maguire-type who will say or do anything to remain within his comfort zone. Later on, he gets to learn some amazing combat skills, learn humility, predict exact consequences of events, and gains an appreciation for the nobodies whose necessary sacrifice he had previously sold to the American public; as a result, he learns to be a good soldier and a good man. The Cage at the end of the film is almost unidentifiable from the Cage in the beginning.

Cruise isn’t the only one with déjà vu – regular moviegoers will undoubtedly derive plot elements not only from the aforementioned ‘Groundhog Day’ and ‘Independence Day’, but also ‘Aliens’, ‘Starship Troopers’, ‘Children of Men’, ‘Saving Private Ryan’, ‘Total Recall’, ‘The Butterfly Effect’, ‘Back to the Future’, and ‘Source Code’. These callbacks never get in way of the fun and for a film about repetition, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ always seems fresh; there is nothing tired about it.

This is an adaptation of Hiroshi Sikurazaka’s novel ‘All You Need Is Kill’, which I’m not the least bit familiar with, but the film version is true, highly conceptual science fiction. Credit screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Jez and John Henry Butterworth for a very smart screenplay.

Everything is of a piece and the results are dazzling – star, structure, set-up, script. This thing really moves, and it has a great sense of humour meaning that it doesn’t take its time-loop premise overly seriously.

What prevents the picture from a potential fourth star is the ending, which I’m not sure I fully understand, so I can’t really say if it works (a second viewing may have me feeling differently about this), and the use of 3-D which makes some of the dark settings in the back half of the picture even murkier. See it in bright, colourful 2-D if you can.

When Tom Cruise presented ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ at the Toronto premiere, he said “I hope you enjoy it because I make them for you.” I did. I suspect you will too. The Summer 2014 movie season is off to a terrific start, and I can’t imagine another summer blockbuster surpassing the heights established by both ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’. QED.

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