Edge of Tomorrow
2014, 113mins, 12
Director: Doug Liman
Writer (S): Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Cast includes: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Noah Taylor
UK Release Date: 30th May 2014
Any hack could draw easy comparisons between Doug Liman’s “Edge of Tomorrow” and a plethora of classics, most notably perhaps “Groundhog Day” and “Starship Troopers”. The film has a title character reliving the same day over and over, futuristic combat and some genuinely nasty extra-terrestrials, yet the aim is so clearly entertainment over innovation, leading me to believe such references aren't merely lazy, they’re pointless. Much like Cruise’s sombre “Oblivion”, “Edge of Tomorrow” cherry-picks genre inspiration to winning effect, using an acute mixture of action and comedy to manoeuvre its stars around a fluidly edited narrative. No film in 2014 will repeat itself more than “Edge of Tomorrow”, yet the self-cannibalising screenplay rarely slackens; gifted necessary lightness of touch from Liman’s sprightly direction. Just a few weeks ago “Godzilla” suffered from an abundance of po-faced brooding, the lizard crammed unflatteringly into a “tryin’ too hard” post 9/11 arrangement. “Edge of Tomorrow” corrects this unfortunate blockbusting trend, finding intensity and mirth amidst its dystopian warfare. The movie’s a f**kin’ hoot.
High-ranking military man Bill Cage ( a perfect Tom Cruise character name if ever there was one) is manipulated into battle against a wave of lethal alien opposition, landed on a beach (a claustrophobically built ode to Dunkirk) with other grunts despite his inability to operate the mandatory full-body armour or utilise basic combat techniques. The skirmish turns out to be decisive in the context of a wider global conflict, leading to Cage and the human race’s demise. He dies a disgraced coward, his species on the verge of extinction. Then he wakes up. Bemused, he finds himself being prepped for the exact same event, encountering identical faces and eventual Armageddon, culminating once again in death. The he wakes up. Realising that he can repeat the battle again and again, Cage tracks down legendary warrior Rita (Emily Blunt), who agrees (after several subsequent rebirths) to help him use his newfound talent to target the enemy hive-mind, and end the conflict once and for all.
Doug Liman’s last major studio venture was the critically maligned “Jumper”, so naturally most anything would mark an improvement. “Edge of Tomorrow” actually goes further, reminding us why some of his other features are still popular to this day. The snappiness of “Swingers”, the propulsive cuts of “The Bourne Identity” and the accomplished star handling evidenced in “Mr & Mrs Smith” are all present, Liman maintaining supreme control over the film’s structure and tone. The film-maker manages to splice a variety of moods into “Edge of Tomorrow” without upsetting the feature’s central fascination with character. It’s reminiscent of a young James Cameron, especially during the beach landings, in which Cruise’s bedraggled protagonist has to endure detonations, tricky monsters and even the perils of macabre slapstick. Of course after every incident he reawakens within a perpetual time-loop, but “Edge of Tomorrow” has a way of gifting each re-entry a specific and enjoyable ambiance.
Now, nearly ten years after his cyber-crucifixion for cavorting on a couch, Tom Cruise is finally done caring what we all think. His character in “Edge of Tomorrow” isn’t the clean-cut boy-scout type; instead he’s a wimpy political raconteur, displaying zero compassion for infantry on the frontline. Cruise makes early use of his trademark grin and underrated comic chops to underline Cage’s myriad flaws, making the first ill-fated burst of action particularly satisfying. Yet, each time the actor reawakens he brings a little something extra to the role, convincingly stacking up a supply of humanity across the hundreds of resets he endures. “Edge of Tomorrow” never allows much time in one single phase of the loop, making it difficult to illustrate a sweeping arc. Instead Cruise opts to vary his communicative rhythms, monster-bashing movements and semi-snarls to indicate gradual growth. It works, especially alongside Blunt’s steely “Full Metal Bitch”. Science fiction isn’t Blunt’s usual port of professional call, but she’s magnificently unrepentant and dangerous here, a more fearsome screen presence than any of the movie’s comparable men. It’s a strong female character in a genre famously short on them.
The climax isn’t as devious or memorable as the preceding 90 minutes, more enamoured with cultural tourism and CGI than the playful editing of the time loop business. “Edge of Tomorrow” resolves nimbly and never jeopardises its stature as awing spectacle, but some of the movie’s more daring moments feel distant come the finish. The spirit of James Cameron again looms here, the difference being that Liman doesn’t quite have the aforementioned maverick’s eye for definitive genre imagery. Cameron often elects to culminate his work on a note of mano y mano sucker punching, but peppers the formula with visual eccentricity and wonder. Think of his “Terminator” pictures and you’ll get the idea. Liman, despite having a sleek and accessible style, doesn’t possess such a talent for unforgettable framing, leaving “Edge of Tomorrow” as decently sculpted formula sans flavour on the home stretch.
“Edge of Tomorrow” doesn't completely neglect to address some of its softly applied political implications; after all as Cruise’s negligent spin-doctor is forced to suffer the savagery of violence, who won’t want to imagine smirking faces from our bureaucratic histories, forced to undergo similar gory comeuppances. The feature never becomes overtly preoccupied with said motif, but by keeping much of his focus on Cage’s interior transformation, Liman renders it impossible to fully dispel the notion from your viewing experience. It’s the final piece of the puzzle, a subdued intelligence and awareness to match the movie’s boisterous action and enterprising fantasy. It’s still early to be making rash claims, but it’ll only be the very best studio product that equals “Edge of Tomorrow” during the summer months sprawled out ahead.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014