Silver Screen: Edge of Tomorrow ****
In Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise reawakens on the same morning over and over again, only to relive the day in which he straps into a high-tech exoskeletal suit to battle a horde of invading aliens.
Audiences should be forgiven for having a similar feeling of déjà vu. Aliens have invaded in a slew of recent TV shows and films, a couple of them starring Cruise himself (Oblivion, War of the Worlds), and those exoskeletal enhancement suits are awfully familiar too— from G.I. Joe to Elysium to, on a macro-scale, the oversized extraterrestrial incursion of Pacific Rim.
It doesn’t help that the movie’s title was changed to the generic Edge of Tomorrow from far more distinctive moniker of the source material, Japanese author Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill. Seems like only yesterday Cruise was in another sci-fi movie with a title so bland it could be a $2,000 Jeopardy! question that would even give Ken Jennings pause.
As summer blockbusters go, this one has the deck stacked against it: An overexposed star, a too-familiar premise, a flagrantly unmemorable title, and not even the remote possibility that Batman or Nick Fury might stop by for a post-credits sequence. If a hundred-million-dollar-plus movie featuring the one-time most famous movie star in the world can possibly be considered an underdog, this is the one, so it’s a pleasant surprise to say that Edge of Tomorrow is the most thrilling movie of the summer so far. It’s epic in scale, and all the money spent shows up on screen in massive, splashy effects sequences that dazzle even jaded summer theatergoers. Yet despite the proliferation of green-screen effects, digital manipulations, and extraterrestrial threats, it retains some essential humanity.
Cruise, who has spent the last decade and a half rebranding himself as the ultimate no-nonsense ass-kicker, plays against type as William Cage, a military man with no interest in fighting. He’s a media-savvy spokesman who convinces other young men and women to join the deadly battle against the aliens, whose startling, sudden invasion has turned most of Europe into occupied territory. “I do this,” Cage explains to a grizzled general (played by Brendan Gleeson), “so I don’t have to do that.”
Cage’s manipulations and fast-talking backfire. He’s stripped of rank and unceremoniously dumped, with almost no training, into a combat group of grunts who will lead a doomed assault on the alien stronghold. This establishes the movie’s biggest and best setpiece, a sci-fi riff on Saving Private Ryan’s beach-landing sequence that’s frenzied and intense. Director Doug Liman, who did such wonderful work with The Bourne Identity, again shows a facility for coherently staging pure chaos. A terrified, clueless Cage, who doesn’t even know how to work his suit, witnesses a kaleidoscope of terror and atrocity as he sprints around the cratered beach seeking safety. For his trouble, he winds up as dead as everyone else.
But he wakes up the day before the battle, fully aware of the catastrophe at hand yet unable to convince gung-ho superior officer Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) that the aliens are plotting a slaughter. Cursed to repeat the doomed endeavor, Cage uses his seemingly endless cycle of death and rebirth to first try and survive the battle, then to find a way to prevent it altogether with the help of fellow soldier Rita (Emily Blunt), nicknamed the Angel of Verdun for her heroism in the first and only victory against the alien forces.
It would be a shame to give away too many of Edge of Tomorrow’s surprises. Working from Sakurazaka’s original story, screenwriters John-Henry and Jez Butterworth play the high-concept for all its worth, finding new angles of approach and never letting the premise get stale. They’re aided by writer and new Cruise B.F.F. Christopher McQuarrie, who also scripted Valkyrie and Jack Reacher and is slated to direct the forthcoming Mission: Impossible V. The Usual Suspects and Way of the Gun writer McQuarrie is likely responsible, at least in part, for Edge of Tomorrow’s surprising grittiness and dark humor. Paired with Liman’s kinetic action sequences and solid performances by stars Cruise and Blunt, it makes for the summer’s most fully realized action movie. It’s smart-ish, sharp-looking, and the engaging action sequences are balanced with some nice character moments.
Sure, Edge of Tomorrow occasionally indulges in suspect sci-fi logic. The aliens, called Mimics, are indistinguishable blurs of digital ferocity, I’m not exactly sure what they’re mimicking, and the kill-the-head-and-the-body-will-die endgame strategy is so quickly becoming a cliché that it’s now featured in AMC Theaters’ cartoony opening commercial for popcorn and soda.
That said, I’d happily hop into a time loop and watch it again.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.