By Matthew McKibben | June 6, 2014
Director: Doug Liman
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie (Screenplay), Jez Butterworth (Screenplay), John-Henry Butterworth (Screenplay), Hiroshi Sakurazaka (Novel “All You Need Is Kill”)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way, Kick Gurry, Franz Drameh, Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley, Masayoshi Haneda, Terence Maynard, Noah Taylor, Lara Pulver, Madeleine Mantock
Edge of Tomorrow is the best movie of the summer so far. It’s a high octane, smart, and well made movie that reminds us all why Tom Cruise was at one time one of the world’s most beloved movie stars and why Doug Liman is one of the best popcorn film directors working today.
In what has become a cliche of movies like this, Edge of Tomorrow begins with a credit sequence in which real news footage of mass chaos is intercut with movie footage showing us how an alien invasion has pushed humanity to a point of no return. Humanity isn’t wiped out yet, but if things don’t change rapidly, it’s all but a foregone conclusion that it soon will be. Things are dire, however the fortunes change once humanity creates a way to fight back using mechanized super suits designed to increase the killing potential of the person wearing them. We’re introduced to Rita (Emily Blunt), a bad ass “Full Metal Bitch” who single-handedly wipes out 200 “Mimics” (the name given to the aliens) in a pivotal battle.
We’re also introduced to Major Cage (Tom Cruise), a PR exec turned Army officer intent on doing whatever he can to stay off the front lines, including blackmailing a hard-nosed general. As one might expect, this attempted blackmail doesn’t go over too well and Cage is sent to the front lines on the eve of a D-Day style invasion of France. The invasion is a total failure, as is the heroically inept Major (turned Private) Cage. It is upon his death that he finds himself instantly awoken back to where he found himself the morning before the invasion, and thus begins a seemingly neverending cycle of repeating the same day over and over again.
When I first saw the trailer for Edge of Tomorrow, I was worried that the daily repetition loop would be a thing that just happens and isn’t explained, as it was in Groundhog Day; but the very reason the loop exists is fully explained early on and is central to the advancement of the story. Although the science behind it might be far-fetched, it makes total sense within the world of this movie.
The last 15 minutes gets pretty formulaic. By that point, they’ve figured out what is causing the loop and are on a mission to end it, so it more or less becomes a stereotypical action movie. It does retain its visual style and emotional weight, but because the first 3/4 of the movie is so strong, it kind of pales in comparison.
Doug Liman often gets overlooked when people talk about great popcorn film directors, but he continues to make one solid movie after another. Here, he has taken the template of a World War II movie and added a science fiction meets video game aesthetic. There are many shots in the movie that seem like they were pulled directly from old Time-Life Books’ D-Day footage. This movie opens on the 70th anniversary of that famous defining battle, and I wonder if that was planned or coincidental? This movie had every right to be a total mess. The fact that it succeeds on nearly every single level is largely a credit to Liman’s direction.
Credit is also due to Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects and Jack Reacher), who once again pens an amazingly tight script that isn’t afraid to take some interesting twists and turns. The script could have easily been too predictable, sentimental, repetitive, etc. It’s none of those things. I mean, yes, there is an element that is predictable in that this is a big Hollywood movie where you know the good guys will be victorious and where the man and the woman end up falling for each other, but the movie throws enough twists and turns and wrenches into the engine that I never really knew where it was headed.
It’s not every day you get to credit a film editor in a summer movie but a massive amount of credit also goes to editor James Herbert. His editing brought a ton of energy and forward motion to the movie. Herbert found interesting ways to signal that a new day had begun, without showing the same “wake up” scene that signals a start of each day.
I’m not sure where this Cruise performance ranks in his filmography, but I do know that it’s my favorite performance of his in years. It’s definitely his least flashy part, both performance wise and in how it’s written. He starts off the movie as a bit of a coward, and I like how he was able to go against type by being someone who doesn’t have all the answers. When’s the last time you saw Cruise in a training montage as a student and not the teacher? You don’t even see him flash that Cruise grin until the very last frame of the movie, and by that point it’s completely earned and feels natural for the movie.
Emily Blunt is the real revelation, though. I’m not going to get all hyperbolic and say she gives a performance on par with Sigourney Weaver in Aliens or Linda Hamilton in T2, but she’s in the same ballpark. Maybe in the nosebleed seats, but I bought it. She’s been so great over the years as countless doe-eyed ingenues that I had no idea she had this kind of bad ass role in her. Female roles like this often are nothing more than romantic foils for their male counterparts. However, truth be told, this is more an Blunt movie than it is a Cruise one. She kind of steals the movie.
The rest of the cast is solid as well. While he’s in it, Bill Paxton gives another performance that kind of steals the movie from the other performers. I don’t mean that as a slight to him or to the other actors, but he gives a kind of “game over, man, game over” kind of performance that adds a lot of weight AND comedy. Charlotte Riley, Dragomir Mrsic, Franz Drameh, Kick Gurry, Tony Way, and Jonas Armstrong round out the rest of his platoon and give Aliens-lite space marines style performances.
Edge of Tomorrow is a really fun and funny movie. In a summer that’s already seen some really quality movies, this is the standard by which I’ll judge all previous and upcoming movies. Another refreshing thing is that while every other Hollywood movie gets the trilogy treatment, Edge of Tomorrow seems perfectly designed to be a one-off movie. I’d be shocked if this very self-contained movie produces any sequels. And it’s a true return to form for Cruise and a signal that Blunt is ready to tackle some more kick ass parts. Rumor has it that she’s in the running for Catwoman in Snyder’s Justice League movies. It’s also another great movie from Liman, who continues to make movies that are much better than they have any right to be.