Edge of Tomorrow is going to yield a ton of Groundhog Day comparisons and I suppose that’s fair. The film’s main conceit involves repeating the same day over and over as the protagonist gains more knowledge of his ultimate purpose. Where the films differ dramatically is in there…well…blockbusteriness. Edge of Tomorrow skirts the subtlety and heart of Groundhog Day in favor of hard driving plot and action. It’s a stylistic choice that slightly robs of the film of its potential humanity but oddly fills it with a momentum and wit missing from most summer blockbusters.
I found it to be a fair trade for a star-vehicle starring Tom Cruise. I never found myself yearning for a strong central relationship but after the film ended it did leave me with a half-empty – I just ate Taco Bell at 2 am feeling. Cruise has certain requirements as a lead. He still needs to seem fairly young (now north of 50,) he must have a much younger female lead to play off (Emily Blunt in this case, 31,) and if his character is initially unlikeable he must be redeemed. All of these play in spades here.
His character – Cage (great generic war name) – is a military puppet used to drum up support to enlist after Europe is invaded by a deadly, fast-moving alien race called “Mimics.” He spends his days on various cable networks explaining the power and might of our new military technology that requires little training to master. It’s a suit, wore by all soldiers and equipped with rockets, guns and other firepower. It looks complicated, but apparently it’s not.
The afternoon before a D-Day like invasion on the beaches of France Cage is told to follow the troops into combat with a camera crew. After adamantly refusing General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) he is forced into a squad as a Private (reducing his rank from Major) and a deserter.
The assault on the beach is a massacre clearly meant to evoke the Normandy invasion-scene from Saving Private Ryan. It’s stirring visually as men and women fall from drop ships to the sand below then moving slowly towards thousands of mimic hoards. As Cage makes his way up the beach fighting to turn off the safety on his suit (which for some reason no one will show him how to do) the chaos is quickly turning into human slaughter. As Cage finally figures out his weapon he is bombarded by a large blue mimic that bleeds some serious acid Alien-style blood all over him killing him brutally. That is, until he wakes up the morning before the invasion.
And lather, rinse, repeat. The great strength of Edge of Tomorrow is these initial days. Cruise does a fantastic job selling Cage’s complete sense of befuddlement that he has to repeat this massacre over and over. His slow, eventual realization that something grander is happening unfolds organically with very little need for exposition (unfortunately plenty of that comes later.) When Emily Blunt – as the badass Full Metal Bitch Rita – is folded in the film’s momentum picks up dramatically. Blunt is great here and is convincing enough to warrant her own set of action movies. Watching Cruise have to convince her that they meet every day in the same way and attempt to bring down the enemy is funny and poignant. Her having to kill him to repeat said day brings out the film’s most macabre, darkly-comedic moments.
Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) never lets the repetition become tedious. He consistently finds new ways to edit the day as Cage and Rita edge ever closer to the enemies core. He also mines a ton of humor out of the premise. When Cage predicts things or tells a character what they are thinking the audience roared. Edge of Tomorrow excels at this. It also shares the same ingredients as a good video game experience. Each time you die there is a chance to repeat the scenario and move forward. The best video games feel rewarding as you progress and Edge of Tomorrow accomplishes the same feeling.
Sprinkle in some great supporting turns from Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson along with some seriously cheesy military-clichés and Liman has crafted one of the most consistently entertaining rides of the summer so far. Who knew repeating the same day with Tom Cruise would be this fun? Something tells me in real life that wouldn’t be the case.