I like Tom Cruise as an actor. I mentioned this when I wrote about Oblivion last year: the dude is a really good actor. It can be hard sometimes to separate one’s mental image of Cruise from the characters he plays. He’s one of the most famous people in the world, just say the name “Tom Cruise” and probably every single person within earshot will automatically know who you’re talking about. His reputation precedes him, which sometimes works to the disadvantage of the movies he’s in.
But with his latest movie, Edge of Tomorrow, I didn’t have much trouble separating Cruise’s public persona from the character he plays.
Cruise plays Major William Cage, a military PR guy who has never seen a day of combat. Mankind is at war with a race of shape-shifting aliens called Mimics, and, as is so often the case in movies, we are losing. On the eve of a massive invasion of Mimic-controlled continental Europe (ominously called Operation Downfall), Cage is told by General Brigham (played by Brendan Gleeson, aka Mad Eye Moody), the commander of the invasion force, that he will be dispatched to the front lines on the beaches of France the next day. In his reluctance to comply with this order, Cage attempts to blackmail the general, which results in his getting busted down to Private and sent to the army base at Heathrow Airport, where he will deploy with the rest of the grunts the following day.
The next day, he is deployed on the front lines, where the invasion fails spectacularly. The mimics have somehow anticipated the attack, and annihilate the invasion force. Cage manages to kill a particularly large mimic by blowing it up with an explosive, but is doused with the creature’s blood and dies in the process.
He then wakes up the previous morning at Heathrow Airport, and meets many of the same people and hears many of the same things all over again. He becomes stuck in a time loop, repeatedly dying in the invasion and reawakening the previous day.
He tries during several of these time loops to convince people that the invasion will fail, but of course no one believes him. It isn’t until he meets Sergeant Rita Vrataski (played by Emily Blunt) on the battlefield that he gains an ally. It turns out that she too once had the time-resetting ability, and she trains him to fight the Mimics. Cage becomes more proficient in combat with each repetition and he and Rita develop a plan to destroy the Mimics. He also begins to develop feelings for the hardboiled Sergeant Vrataski, which are somewhat stymied by the fact that every time he meets her, for her it’s the first time.
The most obvious way to describe this movie is as a sci-fi version of the Bill Murray/Harold Ramis classic Groundhog Day, only with more explosions, aliens, and badass metal exosuits.
But I think that simply dismissing Edge of Tomorrow as “Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers” is, while admittedly somewhat accurate, not really fair to the movie, since it manages to have a life and an identity of its own. Sure, there are similarities. Major William Cage is self-centered and smooth-talking at the beginning of the movie, and gradually learns to be a better person, much like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day. The biggest difference is that Cage is also trying to, you know, save the world from vicious shape-shifting aliens.
The aliens themselves look really cool and original. They made me think of a number of different things, ranging from spiders and squids to the robotic Sentinels from the Matrix.
You can’t really make out too many details here, but this is the best picture I could find. Suffice to say that they are some seriously mean customers. I wouldn’t want to fight them once, let alone over and over and over, as Cage does.
The exosuits, called Jackets in the movie, are also very cool. They’re kind of reminiscent of Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley’s exosuits in Elysium, but on steroids.
Man, I really liked this movie. The more I think about it, the more I realize how much I liked it. The movie was directed by Doug Liman, who had a pair of hits in the early 2000’s with The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but has been in something of a rut since then. This movie should help him reestablish himself, though. He gives the movie an elegant balance of action, plot, character development, hints of romance, and a healthy amount of dark comedy.
And it is a darkly funny movie, which mines quite a bit of humor from the various ways in which Cruise’s character repeatedly meets his end. He gets shot, drowned, blown up, run over, and crushed by falling dropships. There are a couple of very funny moments in particular where he is about to succeed gloriously, only to get plastered by a truck or something and have to start over.
The film also benefits from strong performances from both of its lead actors. Cruise is a natural as a PR guy, and we all know from countless other movies that he is more than capable of kicking ass when he needs to.
Emily Blunt is also really great. She was awesome in Looper, which is one of my favorite movies, and she’s equally good here. It’s a tricky role, and Blunt really sells it. She’s completely believable as an alien-killing badass, but there’s also a strong sense that there’s a lot going on with her beneath her steely demeanor and impressive biceps that make for a continually interesting character. I read that she trained for three months for the role, and it shows.
She and Cruise have really great chemistry, and the movie wouldn’t work nearly as well without them.
The action scenes and special effects look great, too. I know I’ve been saying that a lot in my recent movie reviews, but it’s true. This is a really good-looking movie, and not just because of Emily Blunt.
Doug Liman likes this particular shot so much that he reuses it several times throughout the movie, and I have a hard time finding fault with him for that.
The movie is about as gritty and realistic as a high-concept sci-fi movie is capable of being. The main invasion scene(s) has a sort of sci-fi Saving Private Ryan vibe (minus the gore), which contributes to the movie’s gritty feel. This is light-years away from the candy-colored visuals of Michael Bay’s Transformers films.
Overall, this is a really good movie. Sure, it may be easy to find the DNA of several other films imprinted on it. But it still manages to be its own movie, and is one of the most pleasant surprises of the summer movie season for me so far.