There’s no question that the summer blockbuster season is more crowded than ever — so crowded, in fact, that the season now actually starts in April, which is spring, no matter how you slice it — and it’s become increasingly difficult for wannabe hit films to break out in a big way. One way to really sell that new film? Well, just spin off something that already exists. That not enough? Add in a bankable star. Still not enough? How about making an actual action film with quality, charisma, and questions to spare. Meet Edge of Tomorrow, your new favorite summer blockbuster, a clever combination of existing property (a graphic novel), big time star power (Tom Cruise), and just plain entertainment value (it has bang for your buck, and then some).
In the not too distant future (isn’t that always the way?), the Earth has (almost) fallen to a race of intergalactic villains bent on taking over the entire world. First landing in Germany, the “Mimics” have managed to overtake the European continent over the course of five years, and they’re just about ready to make the jump to the British Isles, which will spell doom for the rest of the world. “Jacket technology” (essentially, super-powerful and extremely easy to operate mech suits) has changed the way the war is fought, and the United Defense Force believes that a combination of jacketed soldiers and a massive surprise attack can turn the tide of the war. It’s called Operation Downfall, but the side that ultimately falls just might not be the right one.
Tom Cruise stars as Major William Cage, but don’t let that title fool you, this guy is not a soldier (Cruise even says, quite early on, “I’m not a soldier, really,” although that’s never really up for debate). Cage, for all his uniforms and titles and roles, is actually a former ROTC geek who went into advertising after college and only joined up with the Army after he lost his business once the war broke out. He’s in charge of media relations. He’s essentially a lower-tier Don Draper in a military uniform. He is not a solider.
Which is exactly why, when Cage is told he’s being sent to the front lines of Operation Downfall, ostensibly to film the action to make into a media- and press-friendly video package, he completely freaks out. That freaking out — embarrassingly enough, right in front of tough guy commander General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), who he then tries to bribe — leads directly to Cage being arrested, marked as a deserter, and sent to the front line. To fight. Oops.
Cage dies within mere minutes of hitting the beach where Operation Downfall is taking place, a big bruiser of a military battle that feels real and terrifying and just appropriately weird enough. But something happens after he dies — he wakes up to a world that has been reset, at least back to the previous day, when he first found himself pushed into actual military service. The mechanics of how that resetting works are relatively simple (and yes, they do get eventually explained in a satisfying and full manner), but that doesn’t mean they’re not smart, and it sure doesn’t mean that director Doug Liman spoonfeeds information to his audience. It’s clearly presented, explained, and brought to life, and then it’s up to the audience to follow along.
All you really to know is that every time Cage dies, he’s zipped back in time, perpetually tasked with waking up on a pile of military backpacks, a traitor in a strange land. He catches on pretty quick, and so do we, though Liman doesn’t shy away from calling back to scenes we’ve seen before (like, many times before), especially ones that include Cage’s scenery-chewing superior officer (Bill Paxton), the squad of misfits he’s stuck with, and the Mimics themselves. The real trick of Edge of Tomorrow is that, even with all that repetition, the film stays consistently engaging and entertaining. The cyclical nature of the feature doesn’t bog it down, and even as it moves backwards, it still also manages to move forward with every single step.
The alien invaders aren’t revealed until we’re far into the first act, when they attack the film’s heroine, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), during the beach invasion as Cage stands off to the side, slack-jawed. The Mimics are nefarious enough, and their constant movement and total lack of obvious motivation only makes the metallic, ever-spinning octopus-like creatures all the more fearsome, but what’s really terrifying here is the idea that Cage could be stuck doing this over and over, forever and ever. They’ll never win. He’ll always die.
Something has to change.
While Cage is a coward who has zero interest in the battlefield and anything that involves actual bloodshed, Rita is a career solider with one hell of a story to boast her fame — the so-called “Angel of Verdun” was responsible for killing hundreds of Mimics on her very first day in battle, which just so happened to also be the very first day the human contingent actually won a skirmish. She’s also the only person who understands what’s happening to Cage. She’s also amazing. Rita is a mascot for the war, like an armed combination of Rosie the Riveter and Uncle Sam, and her face and nickname (the extremely catchy, totally scary, and perhaps a little offensive “Full Metal Bitch”) are plastered everywhere. In fact, it’s Rita’s face that greets Cage when he wakes up each day, along with his own gasping awareness, a superior officer calling him a maggot, and his sudden recognition that it’s all happening again. It’s Rita that guides him to the truth.
Much of Edge of Tomorrow‘s middle act plays out like a video game, as Cage essentially learns by doing, learns by repetition, and learns by dying, getting better every single time and essentially completing different levels (most of which involve Cage, a coward but not a bastard, trying to save people). Once Rita enters the picture, that action only ratchets up exponentially, as the trained solider works as both foil and mentor for Cage. She’ll teach him how to fight and she’ll school him on what he can actually change, but she has little problem killing him off to reset the day when the going gets rough (read: Cage gets hurt, again). She doesn’t have any time to waste, even though all they really do have is time. Although the film might work towards Cage becoming a hero and a badass, Rita arrives fully formed — she’s a complete hero and badass from the get-go, and Blunt is an engaging and wonderfully unexpected fit for the role.
As well-suited as Blunt ends up being for Rita, Cruise is doubly matched for Cage. Edge of Tomorrow works very well as a straight action film with a sci-fi bent, but what sets it apart and makes it truly a summer blockbuster worth getting excited over is the frequent injection of actual humor and the kind of Cruise-branded charm that only he can bring to this type of project. Make no mistake — Cruise is the perfect fit for this role and this film, and it is his ease with both the story and its tone that allows Edge of Tomorrow to truly impress and to make it a film well worth watching over and over (and over and over) again. Summer, you’re not too shabby.
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