Here’s the thing about Tom Cruise: no matter what one thinks of his personal life, his off-screen behavior or his legally recognized religion, the guy consistently appears in excellent films. A few stinkers notwithstanding, there are likely few actors with a better hit-miss ratio in blockbuster movies than Cruise. Of course, rarely is the quality of these films decided by Cruise (although his presence aided Tropic Thunder greatly) but he is nonetheless there, and typically at the center of the action. Emily Blunt as well deserves credit for appearing in some outstanding recent science fiction like Adjustment Bureau and Looper. Both of these streaks continue with Edge of Tomorrow. What could easily be another dower, big-budget, effects-driven, science-fiction-without-any-actual-science slog, especially considering that its entire concept is built on repetition, is a lot more fun than it first appears.
The film’s fiction begins before the production credits finish, which aligns it with Godzilla as movies this summer that use the usual dead period at the start for storytelling. Yet this story takes an immediate downturn when the actual narrative begins by establishing Cruise’s character, Cage, as the television spokesperson for the war effort against an as of yet unrevealed but existential enemy (kind of like a one-man Bush Administration without the falsified evidence). From here, likely more in service of brevity than comprehension, Cage is for some vaguely explained reason sent into the frontlines of a war where none of the millions of recruits he claims responsibility for recognize him. Although this allows the film to get going with the war quickly, it does leave itself buried in a couple of huge plot holes.
The film recovers quickly by tossing Cage’s overwhelmed character into an inevitably fatal situation. (It’s almost a shame that movie advertising requires trailers to reveal basically the first half-hour of any film, I can’t imagine how surprising Cage’s death and rebirth would have been if it weren’t a tagline.) It’s after the first cycle that the movie starts to take off as a sort of hybrid of Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers, complete with a delightfully macabre sequence of Cage dying in grizzly ways over and over again. The central conceit allows Edge of Tomorrow to branch not only into dark comedy but also show more of the world than just the war (as well, there’s a neat parallel in the film’s release on the 70th anniversary of D-Day as the action begins by storming a French beach). Although the film does at times break from Cage’s point of view, living the same day on repeat allows him to be in multiple places at the same time, broadening the audience’s understanding of events. Even the cycle itself is neatly explained as more than a plot gimmick. There is a stretch in the middle which becomes mildly repetitive, and it’s hard to believe in the film’s stakes even when they’re stated, but the ability to experiment and erase provides a lot of fun and the tension of killing off main characters at any time.
What’s less successful in earning their place are the mech suits worn by soldiers in battle. Explained as a major breakthrough, and possibly as a nod to technology currently being developed by the US military, these exoskeletons aren’t essential to the story and come off as more of a visual hook, an unneeded gimmick to set the film apart from those like it. The suits are especially odd considering that they don’t look efficient and leave the wearer exceptionally vulnerable compared to, say, body armor or a vehicle. All of this, along with one other plot hole which won’t be mentioned, mess with verisimilitude and distract from otherwise tremendous design work. The effects of Edge of Tomorrow are stupendous, particularly the design of the invading aliens (“mimics”). Far too often creature design is limited by referencing known creatures: humanoid, insect, crustacean, etc. Here the most common creatures resemble a mass of animated suspension cables, a menacing metallic appearance befitting their role as warrior and drone. Other alien types are a bit less imaginative but still look great on screen.
As for the humans, well, they’re humans. All the usual development beats are hit and none of the characters standout in meaningful ways. The ability to know everything that’s going to be said before it is said provides from some humorous dialogue, but essentially these serve as fun asides before the next plot point or action sequence. This isn’t a deeply characterized, talky movie, this is a last stand action flick where the last stand fails over and over and over, a prospect which hints at fate and inevitability but doesn’t focus on it.
At its core, Edge of Tomorrow is a well made, entertaining summer action movie. It’s fun, exciting, loaded with explosions and big guns and yet another addition to Cruise’s list of successful blockbusters. None of the ideas presented are original, and the end doesn’t live up to what precedes it, but most of the elements are well used and explored. If none of this is enough to convince his detractors to put their distaste aside, Edge of Tomorrow at least offers critics a chance to watch Tom Cruise (and Emily Blunt) die several dozen times.