I gotta say, folks, this one came out of the blue and pleasantly surprised me. I was expecting an addle-brained dollop of sci-fi schlock à la the remake of Total Recall but instead got Dragon's Lair: The Motion Picture crossed with Groundhog Day.
THE ELEVATOR PITCH
A feckless media-relations military officer named Major William Cage (played by Tom Cruise) unexpectedly finds himself at the front line of a desperate battle against a vicious race of alien invaders dubbed the Mimics.
Not only does this offensive fail miserably, Cage is snuffed out almost immediately, but not before blasting a rare alien boss and getting marinated in its blood. Because of this gory baptism, Cage wakes up seconds later, destined to repeat the whole disastrous affair over and over again in the sort of temporal causality loop that Star Trek fans have wet dreams about.
After several failed attempts to break free of this pattern, Cage stumbles upon a fellow time-looper and war veteran Sergeant Rita Vrataski, played by Emily Blunt. Eventually she's persuaded to whip Cage into shape, condition him to adapt to his mistakes and "reboot" him (read: put a cap in his ass) whenever things go awry.
Together they eke out a last-ditch surgical strike to defeat the enemy and save humanity but will they be able to negotiate a path to victory and how many false starts will it take to get there?
NEW IDEA OR RECYCLED GARBAGE?
Well, since I've already cited no less than three different sources that this movie culls from, I'd be hard-pressed to describe Edge of Tomorrow as wildly original. But, in the immortal words of Harry S. Plinkett "the devil's in the details, my lovelies" and the execution of this flick is what gives it considerable entertainment value.
Of particular note are the circumstances that necessitate many of the reboots and the various "trial and error" branching paths that the characters must explore to try and win the day. Basically if you've ever played a frustratingly difficult video game and you're eternally grateful for the concept of "save points", you'll at least get a few chuckles out of Edge of Tomorrow.
Notwithstanding the film's ludicrous premise which is a lot more fiction than science, about the only other issue I have with the script is that sometimes we're just flat-out told that Cage and Vrataski have experienced something before, like with the helicopter scene, for example. In a perfect world, I'd rather see this than be told it but even I know that this could easily drag out the proceedings and unravel some of the impromptu dramatic tension.
Oh, and a slightly less "shiny happy people" ending certainly would have been a lot more impactful.
HOW DOES EVERYTHING COME TOGETHER?
Actually, the film's direction is one of it's brightest spots. Even though the script features a lot of repetition, director Doug Liman ensures that these scenes are more intrigue and amusement than monotony. Another major feather in the cap of Liman and dual editors James Herbert and Laura Jennings is just how well the action scenes are mounted. Usually blender-cut, hyperactive battles come off as lazy and disengaging to me but such is not the case with Edge of Tomorrow.
Mercifully, the same dedication that Liman and company bring to spicing up the reboot dialogue scenes is applied to the action set pieces. Between the increasingly-involved beach landings to the motor home escape to the infiltration of United Defense Force headquarters, each tilt has its own visual clarity, style and distinguishing elements.
There's a lot to like here. The combat suits look pretty good if not ridiculously cumbersome to move in. Many times the actors look inadvertently comical, as if they're on the verge of falling forward onto their faces at any moment. The alien design is suitably intimidating; like a combination of the creatures from Attack the Block, which proceeded this flick, and the rathtars from The Force Awakens which followed. I also dig the quad airships, the costumes and the myriad of cool-ass weapon tech on display in the film.
But perhaps the movie's most impressive visual arsenal are the stunning and seamless special effects. Clearly the creatures are CGI but it feels as if a lot of the environments aren't. It looks to me as if real sets were utilized quite often and even when I knew I was looking at a digital artifice, it still looked durned convincing to me. Perhaps my highest praise is that the special effects made me feel immersed and embedded in the story and not the other way around. High praise indeed.
ANYTHING UNDER THE HOOD?
So, is there anything else going on in Edge of Tomorrow above and beyond all the visceral 'splodey stuff? Welp, other than a labyrinthine plot that forces you to pay attention, the movie has a lot to say about the value of team-work, practice, bravery, growth and self-determination. But that's about as deep as it gets.
Aside from Tropic Thunder this could very well be my favorite Tom Cruise performance to date. Even better: Cruise has an actual character arc to work with here, starting out as an incompetent, craven jackanape and eventually growing into a brave, noble and resourceful hero. I have to give it to Cruise; he's sure-footed throughout all of these transitions.
As for Emily Blunt she's also terrific. First off she's totally ripped, so clearly she felt committed enough to the character and the script to get in stellar shape. Occasionally she defaults to this dreadful slack-jawed expression of resignation which makes her look like she's been hit in the head with a 2 x 4 but otherwise she habitually strikes an imposing figure and also has the acting chops to pull off the script's subtleties.
Mild jeers, however, for hinting at a relationship between 53-year-old Cruise and 33-year old Blunt. I've seen worse but it really underscores the double standard in Hollywood today: I.E. men can continue to be action stars well into their fifties, sixties and seventies but women can only become Peter Parker's hawt aunt. Yes, Blunt does a great job and I know she's more marketable, but I would have love to have seen an actress in her late forties or early fifties tackle this role.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention great supporting performances by Brendon Gleeson as the hard-to-pin-down General Brigham and Bill Paxton as the Foghorn Leghorn-esque Master Sergeant Farell.
Like I said, Edge of Tomorrow kinda took me by surprise. Amidst a tsunami of sequels, remakes and reboots, it distinguishes itself just on the merit of being different. Thankfully its also smart, engaging, well-made and rewarding in its own right.