D: Doug Liman / 113m
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Noah Taylor, Kick Gurry, Jonas Armstrong, Charlotte Riley, Tony Way, Franz Drameh, Dragomir Mrsic, Masayoshi Haneda
Sometime in the near future, a meteor crashes to earth in Europe, bringing with it an alien race called Mimics. The Mimics set about taking over the planet, swiftly conquering Europe, with the UK next in line. Military forces under the command of General Brigham (Gleeson) are preparing for a full-scale counter attack on French soil. When Lt. Col. Bill Cage (Cruise) arrives in London to continue the PR drive he’s orchestrated from the US, he’s shocked to find he’s expected to do so from the Front and will be going in with the first wave of the attack. His attempts to avoid this end up with him being busted down to private and made to join J Squad, under the auspices of Master Sergeant Farell (Paxton). With no combat training or experience, Cage has a crash course in using the exo-skeletons the military provides and finds himself in a troop carrier the very next morning. The attack is ambushed by the Mimics; Cage survives for a few minutes before he’s confronted by an Alpha Mimic. He manages to kill the Alpha, getting the alien’s blood on him in the process. Instead of dying as well, Cage wakes up back at the base in the UK on the day before the attack and has to relive the exact same experience all over again.
Despite still getting killed again and again, Cage does learn to anticipate events on the battlefield. When he saves the life of Sergeant Rita Vrataski, the military’s poster girl and with more Mimic kills than any other soldier, Vrataski is obviously shocked and tells him to find her when he wakes up. When he does, Cage learns that what is happening to him happened to Vrataski but she lost the ability after receiving a blood transfusion. He also learns that the reason the Mimics have been so successful in conquering Europe is due to their ability to reset time; they are a hive race controlled by what is described as an Omega creature, like a queen. Thanks to the Alpha’s blood, Cage is linked to the aliens, and Vrataski sees a chance for them to be defeated, using their ability to reset time to anticipate their actions and change the outcome of the attack. But Cage’s continuous efforts prove fruitless; no matter how hard he trains with Vrataski or memorises the details of what happens during the attack, he still dies.
When Dr Carter (Taylor) tells Cage and Vrataski they need to find and eliminate the Omega alien, they realise they have to get away from the battle and track it down. This proves harder than expected, but eventually they trace the Omega to the sub-cellars of the Louvre. With the aid of J Squad, Cage and Vrataski mount an attack on the alien hideout.
A mash-up of Groundhog Day (1993), D-Day the Sixth of June (1956) and Starship Troopers (1997), Edge of Tomorrow is by no means an original concept, but thanks to a whip-smart script by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, it’s easily one of the more enjoyable sci-fi movies of recent years. There are some inconsistencies – it’s never made clear exactly why Cage is reliving the same day over and over again when the Omega appears to reset time only when necessary – but this is such a gung-ho ride that it doesn’t matter. From the moment Cage tries to blackmail Brigham into getting out of going with the first wave (with Cruise’s cowardly efforts proving no match for Gleeson’s blank-faced indifference), Edge of Tomorrow sweeps up the viewer and doesn’t let them down until the movie’s satisfying, if slightly corny, ending.
A lot of this is down to Cruise and Blunt, who make a great team. Cruise is in his element, all cocky charm and mega-wattage smile at the beginning, then increasingly serious as the movie progresses, his physicality predominant in the action scenes, and his generosity as an actor evident in his scenes with Blunt and the rest of the cast. (Cruise may have his detractors but even they should find little to confirm their doubts about him here.) It’s a well-rounded performance, giving Cruise a chance to display a variety of moods and emotions, some that rarely get a look in during big budget sci-fi spectaculars. There are a couple of quiet moments where it’s just him and Blunt, and the warmth of those scenes makes their characters’ relationship all the more credible, and shows two actors elevating what could have been just a couple of moments where the movie slows down to take a breather. Blunt is just as good, taking a straightforward, no-nonsense soldier and giving her an emotional strength that strikes a necessary balance with her obvious physical strength (and she must have had fun killing Cruise over and over again). In addition, Blunt may not be everyone’s idea of a bad ass, but she’s very convincing, and if the casting director on the upcoming female Expendables movie is still looking for some cast members, well, they need to sign up Blunt right away.
As marshalled by a reinvigorated Liman – after the twin disappointments of Jumper (2008) and Fair Game (2010) – the production is handsomely mounted with some of the most effective use of London locations this side of 28 Days Later… (2002) (and those of us in the UK will know just how much was filmed on Saturday and Sunday mornings, as well as how under-developed Heathrow is). The hardware is a credible mix of low-tech – the exo-skeletons still shoot live rounds – and high-tech – the troop carriers – while communications in London are still carried out largely by telephone (a nice touch), and the colour scheme is a steely blue/grey mix that suits the mood entirely. The Mimics are mostly a rapid blur and all the more scary for it, and the replayed scenes are given enough of a visual spin – different camera angles, close ups etc. – that they never become tiresome. There’s plenty of wry humour to be had, as well as a couple of laugh-out-loud moments on the battlefield that should feel incongruous but aren’t, and Cruise displays a knack for comic timing that might surprise some people. The action sequences are inventive and well-staged, and the special effects are impressive throughout.
What makes Edge of Tomorrow so effective in the long run though is its ability to take elements from various other movies and sources and meld them into an action-packed, exhilarating fun ride of a movie that is as broadly entertaining as any other big budget mainstream movie, and adds a generous dash of heart and soul to the mix as well. It’s an accomplished piece of movie-making and an early highlight in a (so far) largely disappointing year.
Rating: 8/10 – a must-see on the big screen (and even better in IMAX 3D), Edge of Tomorrow has all the ingredients of a smart, self-aware movie designed to entertain at maximum levels; a couple of dodgy plot twists aside, this is exhilarating stuff and an almost perfect way to spend a couple of hours.