By Simon Miraudo
June 24, 2014
Edge of Tomorrow is an ingenious action-comedy about how frequently movie heroes would actually die if they attempted that much crazy s***, and no movie hero is more notorious for doing crazy s*** than Tom Cruise. Though Cruise long ago lost his reputation as a reliable truth teller – around the time he described himself as knowing the history of psychiatry – his latest is remarkably upfront about how quickly even he would be killed while trying to save the universe. Not many marquee stars would agree to being depicted like that; even fewer that were previously famous for climbing the Burj Khalifa and claiming only Scientologists can help at the scene of road accidents. And yet…
As a cowardly PR man who accidentally winds up on the front lines of an intergalactic war and splattered in alien blood, Cruise’s Major William Cage keeps on waking up safe and sound in an army barracks after every subsequent death, slowly finding his spine and figuring out how to best the invading forces bit by excruciating bit. It’s a rare low-status turn for Cruise; a snivelling coward who only earns his saviour standing after being endlessly rebooted. It’s a similar resurrection story for director Doug Liman, whose career seemed unsalvageable after his last sci-fi venture, the abominable Jumper. Here he is, sitting at the helm of one of the year’s snappiest, funniest, most emotionally engrossing pictures.
Adapted from Hiroshu Sakurazaka’s All You Need Is Kill by screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth – with an assist from Christopher McQuarrie – Edge of Tomorrow takes no time in setting up its sci-fi premise, presenting us with a universe almost-overrun by spindly, helicopter-rotor-like beasts called Mimics. Cage does the TV talk-show circuit seeking volunteers for the war effort, spruiking a special mech suit that can turn any schlub into a murdering-machine. His commanding officer (Brendan Gleeson) puts it to the test by having Cage don it on the first wave of a new assault. He dies, and then dies again, until eventually finding help from Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a peerless warrior and face of the human army. Together with disgraced Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), the three of them devise a way to use this glitch to humanity’s advantage. If ever they mess up, they can take solace in the fact that shooting Cage in the head will reset the clock. Prepare to see Tom Cruise get shot in the head a lot.
The plot sure sounds like a literal translation of one noob’s struggle to complete Halo, but, in its execution, Liman is smart enough to skip large portions of every new do-over, and, in the second act, sneakily switches our perspective. For a while, we see each rebirth from Cage’s eyes. As he becomes more and more knowledgeable about the future, we slide into Vrataski’s shoes, unaware of how many times they’ve lived any particular moment. It’s totally destabilising. Blunt is an effortlessly compelling presence, and it’s nice to see her brusque side (not so far removed from her work in Looper or even The Devil Wears Prada) on display, and actually fitted with a great big sword to go with it.Bill Paxton, meanwhile, has the pleasure of playing a Kentucky-fried Master Sergeant (or, I should say, the pleasure is all ours).
The action sequences are all fairly spectacular, though in the age of the $200 million budget, that’s pretty much a bare essential for this kind of thing. The additional pathos and uncommon spark of black comedy is all bonus, however. The coda may not hold up to the flick’s own internal logic, but Liman’s film satisfies in too many other ways to be bothered all that much by it. Much like Groundhog Day before it – and Cloud Atlas too, kind of – Edge of Tomorrow suggests it takes many, many lifetimes for a bad person to become good. Inspiring real exhilaration, it took just one feature to make me excited about blockbusters again.
Edge of Tomorrow is now showing in cinemas.