Review – Edge of Tomorrow
Heading into the U.S summer season of blockbusters you might be feeling a cold sweat coming on. Remakes, reboots and sequels, oh my! Not to forget the new buzz words in gigantic studio releases “wider cinematic universe”. Edge of Tomorrow has no umbilical cord to an existing twelve volume young adult saga, it’s based on a short Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and that thriftiness applies to the film. Edge of Tomorrow is a frenetic burst of energy that thrills and enthrals while carrying zero baggage.
An alien race called ‘Mimics’ invade the Earth and take control of Europe. After taking a Mimic thumping on the battlefield for years, the military begin to put a dent in the enemies campaign with the introduction of mechanical combat jackets. Bolstered by the success, the army plans a surprise attack on the Mimic stronghold in France and embed a cowardly public relations contractor, Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), to record the outcome. On the battlefront Cage gets covered in the blood of an Alpha Mimic and begins to repeat the same day each time he dies. Cage turns to a war hero, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), for help to break the cycle.
After the first few resets of Cage’s day it appears that Edge of Tomorrow is working from the playbook of a really good episode of The Twilight Zone that has received a Red Bull transfusion. The elements of the time travel paradox are fleshed out expertly by screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John Henry Butterworth, although they dip into scientist exposition territory frequently with the assistance of a professor played by Noah Taylor.
Everything is put through a videogame spectrum: Cage ‘restarts’ his day, there’s trial and error, rapid fire action reminiscent of a first person shooter and the infantry are a downtrodden bunch that are heavily reliant on their mech enhancements. The soldiers are representative of vitamin D deprived gamers who spend all their time indoors and plugged into various devices playing with their fantastical alter egos; they are generation Y grunts. Most of these gaming elements work into the way the narrative engineers a hero. Cage starts out as a weasel and Cruise turns up the smarminess to full 1990s yuppie. The character has none of the brawn to survive the conflict but has the smarts to figure out how to work within the loop to create the best outcome. Cage retains his memories each time the day is rebooted and this allows for training montages, pre-emptive gags and a bond to develop with Vrataski. Cage dies so many times that you begin to lose track of the amount of time he has spent with his life stuck on repeat. When Cage starts to prefer the quieter moments with Vrataski it’s obvious that a bond has developed and witnessing her die is far worse than any fiery death he has faced. Cruise and Blunt have the spark to make it work and the stakes of their mortality is significantly increased by a clever third act twist that puts both of them in peril.
Director Doug Liman makes a story built on repetition constantly feel vibrant and fresh. As scenes are created and recreated with different variables there’s always a piece of knowledge from a prior attempt or new discovery that propel the narrative forward. The editing maintains continuity while playing around within the timeline of Cage’s circumstance: live, die, repeat. Sadly, Liman just cannot keep his camera steady, and while it services communicating the chaos of the beach storming sequence that serves as survival prime time for Cage, it’s jarring throughout. The spectacle isn’t lost on Liman though, who still manages craft bombastic futuristic WWII imagery that lends itself to something more classic instead of pinging purple lasers (for the record, I love purple lasers).
Edge of Tomorrow is a shining example of a neat concept with a blockbuster budget that has faith in executing the core premise. There’s no set up for future films, zero spinoff potential and no post credits tease. The worst thing that could happen is for this film to get a sequel because it’s a solid chuck of sci-fi action that excels on its own as the first truly great blockbuster of 2014 so far.
The Popcorn Junkie