Edge of Tomorrow is one of the best, true action blockbusters we’ve had in some time. It’s a film that sneakily places action and character on an even keel, using a “cause and effect” approach where the action helps define the characters rather than merely exists to blow something up or wow us with some new digital special effect.
Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) has edited down a lean feature that manages to shift perspective even while operating within a storyline that must repeat itself time and again. What we’ve got here is an impressive balance of action and tongue-in-cheek humor, great chemistry between leads Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, perfect casting in Bill Paxton and a storyline that is hardly unique, but entirely satisfying. In short, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more-entertaining big budget actioner the rest of this year.
Adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka‘s graphic novel “All You Need Is Kill“, Edge of Tomorrow finds a world on the brink of destruction at the hands of an alien lifeforce that somehow knows the humans movements before they’re ever made. Cruise plays military PR officer Bill Cage, a man that’s never been on the front line, but has sold the idea of fighting for human survival for years.
In an unexpected twist of fate Cage finds himself demoted to private and tossed in with the grunts, flying over the battlefield on his way to what is expected to be the final assault. He’s killed within minutes, but his story doesn’t end there as Cage is caught in a time loop allowing him to relive the same day over and over, fighting and dying every time. It isn’t until he meets the war’s literal poster child, Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Blunt), that things begin to fit in place.
Rita is the only one that knows what Cage is going through and uses it to their advantage, training and killing him daily, improving his skills as a soldier as he learns how to anticipate the ins and outs of the battlefield. Blunt and Cruise have perfect on screen chemistry and she, in-particular, seems to have a knack for getting the best out of her co-stars as we previously saw in The Adjustment Bureau opposite Matt Damon. Blunt has this chameleon-like ability to be both tough, endearing and fragile all at the same time and when opposite an actor up to the task, the result is a lot of fun to watch.
In this case, the story does a great job playing off Cage’s relationship with Rita. As he lives and dies, again and again, Cage finds himself learning more and more about Rita while she continues to meet him for the first time each day. Ignoring the psychological aspects Cage would face (he’d clearly go insane), the result adds a complex, emotional layer to a rather straight-forward action narrative. Liman and the films screenwriters allow the characters and story to dictate their feelings rather than explicitly spelling it out for the audience time and again. Edge of Tomorrow, at least in terms of character building, took the “less is more” approach and benefits greatly.
Speaking of which, screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth do a great job of moving the action along, despite the necessary redundancies in the story. Though, I could have done with about half as many “On your feet maggot!” lines. In essence each time Cage lives and dies they are playing a game of chess, trying a new strategy to win the war each time out, gaining information and training, looking for new ways to defeat their opponent. Some ways work, some don’t. Some result in something mildly humorous, others more emotional, all ending in death.
I must admit I’m a huge fan of Tom Cruise, have been for as long as I’ve been watching movies. I’ll watch anything he’s in and while I haven’t been the biggest fan of all of his most recent outings I look forward to each and every one of his films. This can lead to a lot of disappointment, but it also tells me that when I enjoy a film of his as much as I did this one, then it truly is a standout effort.
Along with Cruise and Blunt, the casting of Bill Paxton as Master Sergeant Farell is perfect. Paxton brings exactly what you’d expect, a hard-nosed GI approach to the character, with just that little edge of humor infused as only he can deliver. And speaking of the film’s humor, it’s not about forced punchlines or witty one-liners. Instead it’s scenes such as one where Cage is seen running around killing a shit-ton of aliens while his fellow soldiers look on in wonderment, “What’s his name again?” It’s both spectacularly awesome action and almost so over-the-top you can’t help but smile.
Edge of Tomorrow is hardly a unique story, Groundhog Day comparisons have been around since the first time the film was announced, and the way they must go about winning the war is something you’ve seen in such films many times before. But it’s about the presentation of the story, the editing, the actors and pace at which Liman and his team keep things moving that make it so entertaining. For a blockbuster of this size and with this many special effects to come in under two hours and to maintain so much focus on the characters without beating us over the head with exposition is a minor miracle and a welcomed one at that.