by Philip Price
There will come a day when Tom Cruise not only doesn't make action blockbusters like this, but when he won't be able to and when that day comes we will miss it. Not necessarily just out of a sense of nostalgia, but because Cruise is the last of a dying breed; one of the only true movie stars left who, despite his image being tainted over the years, can demand the kind of budget and talent that it takes to put together an original effort worth standing behind. He has done this throughout his career, spearheading projects like The Last Samurai that would have never been made on the scope they were without the involvement of Cruise. So, even though the artistic edges may have faded in the wake of his public life being more important than his acting ability, he is still able to make movies he seems interested in, but that are more or less of a certain genre that has better odds of making a solid return at the box office than maybe a historical drama. With Edge of Tomorrow or All You Need is Kill as it was originally, less-generically titled (interestingly enough, I don't remember seeing a title card) Cruise has again stepped into the world of science fiction and though he seems to enjoy these kinds of worlds and the different rules in each of them he can explore what makes Cruise the still magnetic force and pure movie star that he always will be is how he digs into the motivations of the character and makes what could easily be looked down on as silly or nonsensical into a valid threat, a valid journey, a valid plan, or any part of it you'd expect to sound gimmicky or corny that is made all the more real, all the more immediate by not only the surprisingly rational dialogue, but by the fervor in which Cruise delivers it. Yes, Cruise is chief among his co-workers as a man who can still open a film and get people interested simply by having his name over the title. Still, what struck me more as I watched a nearly 52 year-old Cruise ride a motorcycle on the outskirts of some ravished city that highly referenced any number of Cruise films was that one day we will long to simply go to the movies and have the ability to watch a Tom Cruise blockbuster and that those kinds of opportunities will not always be there and so we should appreciate these occurrences especially when they are as entertaining and and thrilling as Edge of Tomorrow.
It begins, as any good apocalyptic film should, with a montage of news excerpts discussing an enemy that we seem to know little about and the measures we have taken to defeat it. There doesn't seem to be much success in taking on this enemy, but the invention of a weaponized suit that basically looks like a metal skeleton with guns attached wherever they can be stuck serves as the big idea the press and the military media liaison's are pushing which includes Major William Cage (Cruise). Cage has never seen a day of combat and doesn't plan to, but when he's unsuspectingly dropped under the command of General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) he is simultaneously sent into what amounts to nothing more than a suicide mission. He comes face to face with Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton in a great supporting role) and is thrown into one of his misfit squadrons that includes the likes of soldiers such as Skinner (Jonas Armstrong), Kimmel (Tony Way), Griff (Kick Gurry) Ford (Franz Drameh) and Nance (Charlotte Riley). These are not the kind of people Cage is accustomed to and these guys more or less know they'll either go down quick or go down fighting, but they seem to take pleasure in it. As Cage and his cohorts are dropped onto a beach in Germany it becomes clear they don't have the upper hand the military imagined they might. This battle on the beach becomes a central piece of the puzzle that is the whole film for the first hour or so. Cage is killed within minutes of landing on the beach that day, but in the fashion he was killed he somehow finds himself waking up a re-living that same day over and over again as if in a time loop. Getting to live this day over and over again though better equips the once inexperienced soldier for what he is facing, getting a little further each time he dies and comes back. Yes, it is essentially Groundhog Day but in the realm of a war film/sci fi actioner the implications of the ability to re-live this day are interesting enough we forgive the fact we've seen the premise before and become more and more interested in how far Cage can take this. In the midst of furthering himself Cage meets Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) or the Angel of Verdun who understands what he is going through because she too experienced it and may hold they key to unlocking not only how to better utilize Cage's new skill, but how to use it to destroy the enemy altogether.
The world expects only one thing from us, that we will win. Paxton's Farrell repeats this line several different times, but in the same tone as he does with every replay of the scenario and it is in this unwavering attitude that we see his character remain on task as Cage continues to develop and adapt to what he has seen and what he knows is coming. It is critical how they choose to play out the scenario the first time we, the audience, see it and director Doug Liman is careful to place emphasis on the things that will build and form points of motivation and become compelling the more they are re-enacted with every time Cage dies and comes back around to that moment. With this kind of inherently complexing premise and the questions it will immediately spurn into existence from adept movie-goers screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth are able to lay the plot out with limited exposition while breaking down the issues of anything having to do with re-configuring time into the simplest of terms. Their script along with the quick pacing of the editing creates little time to worry or focus on what could potentially be plot holes, but instead insist we simply go on the journey while not necessarily worrying about the logistics of everything. It is a nice relief in the way it doesn't let itself get bogged down in the technicalities of it all while the second and third acts are still able to rely on the rules it sets up for itself concerning the time loop that deliver on exactly where I hoped the script would go while still being able to surprise me. With a movie such as this that concerns time travel it is easy to set things up and pull an audience in with the initial promise of the possibilities these kinds of abilities open up, but it is delivering on those promises where films and stories that choose to use that tool typically fail, yet for every road that Edge of Tomorrow could have traveled it takes the one I was crossing my fingers it would and in some instances even goes to places I didn't expect, setting-up circumstances that brought a fresh new light to the narrative and opening up even more possibilities as to where the conclusion might land us. The further along Cage gets each time he resets and the more he fails the more hopeless he begins to feel, having to re-live more and more of the time he's already attempted, but as it is no doubt nothing more than stress piling up it also pushes towards that end goal that, because of these emotional barriers, becomes all the more real and valid in its need for resolution rather than simply existing for resolutions sake.
Liman, who has directed action blockbusters before with The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, has never managed to reach the spectacular visual sense he does here. When the troops are dropped from their Chinook-like carrier's and fall to the edge of the water and race onto the sand with their heavy armor and awkward artillery we feel at the center of it, we feel the tense and unnerving way in which they really have no idea what they are up against because we still don't know who the enemy is even as we are thrust into the action. Seeing this in glorious IMAX 3D (at Chenal 9 in the Promenade for local readers) Liman also utilizes the third dimension to better effect than I've seen in a while as it somewhat mimics Gravity in the way that pieces of helicopters and planes really look as if they're flying towards us in the midst of the wreckage that has occurred as Cage fights to stay alive or further, as he maneuvers through what he knows is coming. While the scope is grand and the film is more than consistent in its visual stimulation Liman also has the credits of directing more grounded, character-driven stories and that shines through in not only the work between Cruise and Blunt who elicit a strong enough chemistry to give the overall tone of the situation an uplift, but also in the way he allows his scenarios to open up the film. We are given just enough of the repetition that it becomes a second nature while keeping us still fascinated by the premise and its possibilities while each time furthering the narrative to the point we are on the edge of our seats (pun intended). To say anything more would be to divulge the pleasures of discovering this film and all its wonders upon first viewing. Each and every time Rita resets Cruise's character (who we don't inherently care for, but whose arc wins us over) he somehow experiences new facets of the same experiences and that seems to be the heart of what Liman and his screenwriters want to convey, that to look at something one way is to dismiss it entirely, but to step back and allow yourself to take in multiple aspects, multiple trains of thought is to truly find yourself in a complete world because at the end of his line Cage is a much different person than he was when we first meet him. Besides any metaphorical meaning though, this is simply solid cinema. This is complete popcorn entertainment in its finest form and I can't wait to reset and see it again as soon as possible.