REVIEW: 'Edge of Tomorrow'

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Perhaps it’s fitting that a movie like Edge of Tomorrow would be released close to the annual E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) convention, the biggest video game industry event of the year. It’s clear the new sci-fi action film, directed by The Bourne Identity’s Doug Liman, owes a debt to the “die and respawn” mentality built into many action-based video games. Indeed, had the film opened several decades ago, we may not have had much patience for its core structure of “resetting the day” when the villains win.

Release dates aside, Edge of Tomorrow still exists in a time when reviewers often brand bad movies with the “video game” label as a means of describing productions that combine shoddy performances with empty scripts and rapid-fire, incomprehensible action. And so the fact that Edge of Tomorrow makes the most of its premise, without neglecting its characters, makes for a refreshing distraction from the franchise-oriented movies that often dominate the summer.

The film opens, as alien-invasion pictures often must, with a sizzle reel of news footage, which fills us in about how Europe is conquered by hyperkinetic, tentacled creatures called Mimics. The aliens seem to have an ability to predict humanity’s every military tactic, and so all hope for our survival is placed on an all-out assault on the enemy by a multinational force, whose key weapon are soldiers wearing hulking, mechanized suits called “Jackets”.

It’s the job of William Cage (Tom Cruise) to sell the world on this counterattack. Cage is a PR man for the American military, and in the early scenes of the film, he confidently outlines the strategy for the media, comforted by the fact that he won’t have to do any real fighting himself. But when Cage reveals his cowardice to one of the war’s leading generals (Brendan Gleeson), Cage finds himself in handcuffs, forced to do his part and fight on the beach alongside the soldiers he claims to represent.

Tom Cruise as William Cage, a military PR officer turned unwilling recruit.

Naturally, Cage’s first day of combat goes poorly, and just before he’s killed by an elite alien, he manages to acquire the creature’s time-control power – the ability that makes its race so hard to defeat. Cage wakes up a day earlier, and discovers that each time he’s killed, he’s forced to relive the same day over and over again. Unwittingly, Cage is granted the opportunity to train to become a master warrior, and to eventually track down and destroy the source of the aliens’ power.

The screenplay is based on a (reportedly) more sombre novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and a few writers have pointed out that the ending devised for the film is a considerably more convenient and easy-to-digest version. Even so, there’s still plenty to like about the film, especially in how it uses the time-travelling, day-resetting plot device to keep the pacing varied and exciting.

Some days are allowed to play out longer than others, and sometimes Liman cuts between them quickly to make a point or to build in some comic relief. Above all, I was never confused about what was happening, which is essential when you’re dealing with a character who has lived hundreds (if not thousands) of versions of the narrative.

Cruise delivers another fully-committed performance as Cage, and his supporting cast is similarly invested in the material. Emily Blunt seems to draw on her fiery work in Rian Johnson’s Looper to portray Major Rita Vrataski, another soldier who lived with the time-travel power and who helps guide Cage. I would have appreciated more development of the soldiers of “J-Squad” to whom Cage is assigned, but I was content to watch Cruise carry the picture in his usual style.

Emily Blunt as Rita Vratasky, a decorated officer and Cage's mentor for his new ability.

The one thing I really wanted was more examination of the effects the day-resetting has on the minds of the characters. There’s a hint of it midway through the film when Cage and Rita are hiding out in an abandoned barn – Rita asks Cage how many times he’s been there with her, and when he answers, an expression of existential dread spreads over her face. All at once, we see her realize how many times she’s already died in previous timelines, and how much destruction Cage has witnessed.

It suggests a kind of psychological trauma unique to the movie, and as a moviegoer who takes in a lot of other time-travel stories, I wanted the movie to properly tackle what it would be like to see the same people die over and over again. It is desensitizing? Or can it be cathartic? As it is, the plot whisks us past these questions before they can really coalesce, but it makes me wonder how the scenario may have been handled if fewer screenwriters had contributed to the script.

And while that ending is a fairly obvious example of a studio-prompted, complication-erasing contrivance, at the very least it ensures that the film isn’t spun into another series. Edge of Tomorrow is satisfying and fun as a self-contained unit, and its ideas are articulated well enough that there’s not much point trying to sequelize it. Whereas William Cage shows that he can survive living the same bloody day in an endless loop, I think one iteration of Edge of Tomorrow is just fine on its own. Three stars out of four.

Three Stars

What did you think of Edge of Tomorrow? Did you lose yourself in its time-loop concept, or were you looking for more from the film? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!