Sometimes shooting yourself in the head really is the best choice
by Thom Yee
We all know it’s impossible to talk about a Tom Cruise movie like Edge of Tomorrow without talking about Tom Cruise.
A working actor for more than three decades whose box office earnings have reached a combined, unadjusted total of more than three billion dollars, Tom Cruise is a true movie star, consistently able to draw crowds, whether it’s to his movies or to witness his oft-bizarre behaviour, much of which seems attributed to his beliefs as a Scientologist. The star of some of the biggest movies in modern history and an enduring fixture in blockbuster American cinema, Cruise has been attached to several Hollywood starlets, including marriages to Mimi Rogers, Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes, and that’s about as much as I’m going to write about Tom Cruise, because, like it or not, watching movies is supposed to be about watching movies.
Which is why it’s dumb to avoid Tom Cruise movies like Edge of Tomorrow just because you don’t like Tom Cruise.
Edge of Tomorrow, based on the Japanese light novel All You Need Is Kill, has been positioned as a number of things, most notably a Tom Cruise vehicle and a sci-fi actioner with a Groundhog Day-style, repeat-the-day plot, but it’s a little bigger than that. It’s world is just slightly more complex than that. At its best, it’s a movie that’s much better than just that. If you look beyond its surface, I’m certain you’ll find a movie you can enjoy.
Just don’t look too hard.
Humanity is at war with the enigmatic alien race known as the Mimics (though I don’t think there’s anything in particular that they’re supposed to be “mimic”-king). Having warred for nearly five years, the world’s military forces have combined to create the United Defense Force (UDF) after much of Europe has fallen to the marauding alien force. It is only with the development of a heavily-armed exoskeletal suit and a decisive victory at Verdun — headlined by “the Angel of Verdun” Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), whose exploits have lead to hundreds of Mimic kills — that humanity has found a measure of success. Intending to launch Operation Downfall, a US-led invasion of occupied France, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) specifically enlists Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) to record and report on the beachfront confrontation. But Cage is an officer in name only, in truth a former advertising exec and the face of UDF recruitment, and after attempting to blackmail the General to get out of field duty, he’s labeled a deserter and forced to join the invasion as frontline infantry. Where, of course, he accidentally gets involuntary time travel powers.
As an actor, Cruise has played against type several times, perhaps most notably in Born on the Fourth of July (and, no doubt most obviously in Tropic Thunder), and while it’s always refreshing to see a different take on a hero as traditionally fabled as the Tom Cruise-type, it’s also a reminder how dedicated to his craft Cruise really is. While I’m not the type of moviegoer that’s constantly calling-out actors on their ability or the veracity of their latest work, I’ve always thought that Tom Cruise brings 100% of himself to all of his roles, and he has a fine command of the screen that’s virtually unrivalled among his acting contemporaries. He may be easy to cast as a classic hero type, but he’s also always got something interesting going on with every part he takes on, even if it’s just things like his running stride or the way he screams. In Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise’s William Cage starts off as a genuine coward, probably never having once faced any real crises in his life, and truly desperate to escape at the slightest hint of danger. For all his bravado as the face of glory and recruitment in the Mimic wars, he knows nothing of what it really means to fight.
It’s through Cage’s initially fearful eyes that we see what this war-torn world is really made of, with our cowardly hero in a shocked daze, gradually resigning himself to his inevitable fate as one of the war’s many unsung casualties. When he makes landfall after a botched helicopter drop, he, along with the invading force, is horrified to find that the Mimics were well-prepared for the invasion as our UDF forces are easily crushed, and it’s only after Cage manages to kill one of the larger Mimics with a mine that he finds the sweet release of death. The sight of Cage, scalded and covered in the creature’s blood is a truly horrific image, particularly juxtaposed against the star’s perennial Hollywood looks, but it’s also a crucial plot point as it’s the creature’s blood that imbues our hero with his time travel abilities and the chance to do it all over again.
In many ways, Edge of Tomorrow is several movies in one as we see Cage progress, day-after-day, through a conflict much larger than himself but all ultimately riding on his shoulders. Cage’s, at first, fearful deserter shows us how horrible war truly is, sci-fi or not, as friends, colleagues and antagonists lie dead, maimed or hanging barely onto a life easily cut down by the gears of war, but as the movie progresses and our hero goes again, it gives way to a story that’s at once a sleek, fast-paced actioner, a sci-fi puzzler, a light romance, and even a genuine comedy. Like Groundhog Day before it, Edge of Tomorrow plays its redux conceit for all its worth as it shows us the many, many failures of William Cage as he’s variously shot, cut-to-pieces, and run over. And it’s actually really, really funny. Eventually, the whole thing starts to feel like an infinite-lives video game, particularly after Cage meets up with Blunt’s Rita Vrataski. His time-worn knowledge on full-display in saving Vrataski from her formerly inevitable death, the “Angel of Verdun” tells Cage to come find her before the two fall victim to yet another sudden, grisly death.
Recognizing the cycle that Cage has found himself in as a former wielder of this resetting power, Vrataski begins training our hero to beat the Mimics as the two re-find each other day-after-repeated-day. Through Vrataski, we find out that it’s the blood of the creature that Cage had originally killed that holds the chronal power, and all he has to do to reset the day is die. For her part, Blunt brings a believable hard edge to her part as the aforementioned “Angel” and “Full Metal Bitch”. While she maintains a graceful presence throughout, you can still believe that she’s a war veteran, and other than the repeated, obviously sexualized image of her introduction as she rises from the floor of the training room, you never really think about how ridiculously beautiful (and clearly better than all of us) she really is. And even though Cruise and Blunt’s overtly attractive leads are our primary protagonists, the two never quite reach the potential romantic entanglement that a lesser movie would no doubt attempt to bring to centre stage. Though there’s a romantic link between the characters, it’s played largely as the natural consequence of two people in a desperate situation spending so much time together (well, one person really, since every new day is the first time Vrataski is meeting Cage).
As time goes by (and repeats), Cage goes through a number of scenarios, learning more and more about his fellow soldiers, the military machine that’s feeding the Mimic conflict, and the origin of the Mimics. At different times, he tries to bargain his way out of the war with Bill Paxton’s obnoxious Master Sergeant Farell (who obviously takes pleasure in the suffering of others without being totally irredeemable), he escapes and visits London only to find how ready the Mimics are to take everything, and he enlists the help of his sometimes tormentors and sometimes allies in ‘J Squad’, at first introduced as cannon fodder and later fleshed out through the movie’s many alternate scenarios. Going through what feels like hundreds of resets, Cage grows from cowardly deserter to ambitious hero to near-defeat and exhaustion. Crucially, no matter how reasoned or extraordinarily aware of the future and circumstances beyond his knowledge he seems in the timelines where he infiltrates the UDF to speak with General Brigham, he’s never able to get through to the powers that be to prevent the slaughter of Operation Downfall, nor can he ever seem to find a way to defeat the ultimate enemy and save Rita’s life.
All throughout, Edge of Tomorrow feels like the work of an accomplished director, with exciting, inventive, and, most importantly, coherent and easy-to-follow action sequences. If you’re looking for a straight-up action movie, Edge will easily fulfill your needs, with war movie graphics, smaller, more intimate set pieces, and futuristic technologies that work effectively to enhance the action. Everything feels fully realized without going over the top, and the war suits that the film is visually attached to never distract from the action, only adding another layer and the opportunity for properly engaging spectacle.
And yet, in spite of all this effusion, by the movie’s end, it’s hard to look at Edge of Tomorrow and not see wasted opportunity. Ending aside (and it’s definitely a typical Hollywood ending), by the time you finish the movie, you start to realize how lightweight the whole thing really is. I don’t know if it’s the jarring nature of the ending or the inherent depth of time travel as a concept itself, but I couldn’t help but notice how Edge avoids asking itself the tough questions. Though Cruise’s Cage clearly becomes exhausted with and detached from his task, you never get a sense of the depression that his experience would naturally engender. As attractive as the thought of getting a do-over may be, imagine if that do-over was of the worst day of your life due to circumstances beyond your control. Imagine the isolation and loneliness of such an experience and the madness you’d experience when surrounded by people, bound by fate, to always fundamentally act the same way no matter what you do or say. Edge of Tomorrow’s premise would naturally lead most to the edge of their own sanity, but the movie never seems to ask its lead to experience this or display the unnatural levels of heroism necessary to overcome it.
As a consequence of its resetting concept and the determination of its producers, Edge of Tomorrow, at its best, manages to go further as an action-comedy piece than most movies of its type. It forces you to confront the horrors of war even as it makes you laugh out loud, think about causality, and shows you how far movie-makers have come in creating cool and innovative action sequences. It’s easy to follow, tight and trim in its pacing, and very much worth your time as a summer blockbuster, but it leaves a lot of the headier parts of its premise on the cutting room floor.
So… pretty much just like every Tom Cruise movie then.
Edge of Tomorrow final score: 7.5
On the Edge
- Be on the lookout for Noah Taylor, everyone’s favourite Jaime-Lannister’s-hand-chopper-off’er, as Dr. Carter, who, it turns out, is kind of an unnecessary character when you think about it.
- Also be on the lookout for Ser Dontos Hollard.
- Fun fact: One of the screenplay writers is named “Jez”.
- I don’t get why Vrataski’s the only one who gets a melee weapon.
- More fun facts: One character is named “Kuntz”.