Tom Cruise Constant: An “Edge of Tomorrow” Review

By: Daniel Reynolds

Tom Cruise saves the day. But you knew that already. Let’s go back and start again. Tom Cruise is an actor who has been starring in films, both big and small (but since becoming almost a standalone film genre, mostly big), since 1981. His latest is Edge of Tomorrow. In the film, Cruise saves the day. But you knew that already. Let’s try this again.

Wait, haven't we seen this before?

Wait, haven’t we seen this before?

Tom Cruise stars in Edge of Tomorrow as Major William Cage, a former advertising guru turned PR man who’s selling the war to a world of recruits in the midst of battling an invading alien horde known as the “mimics.” Cage is sent to London in advance of the next – and hopefully final – offensive to crush the extra-terrestrial occupation of Europe. The UDF (United Defense Force) plans to siege the beaches along the northern coasts of the continent. You know you’ve seen this before. The aliens even helpfully first land in Germany.

It’s a role Cruise has played before too, that of the charming huckster (see Rain Man, Magnolia, Jerry Maguire, etc.) But none of those guys were told they’d have to strap into an exo-skeleton suit and carry a big gun. General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson, looming large) plans to send Cage to a quiet landing zone on the front, give him a taste of combat, and presumably allow for more accurate reporting on what a fun time it is to kill mimics and be in the UDF. You’ve seen the trailer, you know this is not how it goes. Cage meets Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton, clearly having a ton of fun), gets dropped out of an exploding air ship and finds himself smack in the middle of a steroidal D-Day invasion. It strikes me that some of the UDF brass maybe should have reviewed their WWII file again; they’d have known that drop ships are not great for beach landings. Unlike a boat, if the enemy manages to hit one it suddenly becomes multiple tons of falling shrapnel. The aliens route the incoming soldiers, including Cage, and all appears lost.

But, instead of dying (and ending the movie, something we’ve decidedly never seen before) Cage lives and dies and lives and dies the same sequence. In 1993, this was called Groundhog Day but here, our man is trapped in an action movie that itself is fed through the tenets of the video game. But hold on, let’s go back. Edge of Tomorrow is helmed by Doug Liman, a man whose directorial style continues to evolve in all sorts of unforeseen directions. (How many days did he have to repeat to get him from Swingers to Go to The Bourne Identity?) Liman, along with writers Christopher McQuarrie, and brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, understands that alien invasion movies are inherently drab affairs (you know this; you’ve sat through Battle: Los Angeles and Battleship) so he wisely takes the Groundhog Day route in more ways then one: a repeating day, sure, but also a healthy dose of humour. I haven’t lived the day yet where I read the book the film is based on (the superbly titled All You Need Is Kill), but somehow I suspect it will not have any scenes that squeeze a laugh from Tom Cruise accidentally getting run over by a truck.

Yes, funny, but we still want something new. Let’s try this again. The resident warrior badass of the film is Sergeant Rita Vrataski (played, uh, muscularly by Emily Blunt), known as the “Angel of Verdun” (why not call the movie that?) Cage has a meet cute with Rita – right before a ship explodes, killing them both – and gradually pieces together what is happening to him. We already know. Cage is reliving the same day over and over because of an encounter with one of the mondo aliens on the beach, an Alpha. He’s instructed, by Rita and Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor, back to playing nebbish academics after getting his neck snapped in Game of Thrones) to find the Omega. You may roll your eyes at that but you knew this movie was going to involve killing aliens and time travel, so it may as well name the big boss after the be all and end all of existence. So Cage, true to the video game aesthetic of the film (all Halo-fied grey, green and laser-scored), must repeat this beach level, dying each time until he can gain enough XP to advance to the final stage. He has some allies but outside of the aforementioned Rita and Dr. Carter, you won’t remember their names (a classic video game trope). Then Cruise gets to run in the film and suddenly it feels like we’re reliving the same day, too.

Remember, war is hell. (Even with some Cruise running.)

Remember, war is hell. (Even with some Cruise running.)

Here’s what works: Cruise really is an effective movie star in the right roles. His Cage is all beaming smile and disarming language, and his journey from TV talking head to wartime spearhead is a process that is at turns funny, frustrating and fascinating. Likewise, Cruise’s chemistry with Blunt, their teacher-student relationship, is winning. Blunt’s Rita has no time for Cage’s smoothness because too much for her has already been very rough. A graffiti-ed bus drives by that says “Full Metal Bitch”, and you get the reference. But then again, you’d probably be pissed off too if you had to live the same day over and over again only to watch the same people die over and over again. Sometimes gamers rage quit their game and vow never to play it again. But as Edge of Tomorrow goes, it’s the Game Over screen in real time, the impending death of humanity as the ultimate final stage.

Liman keeps things brusque. The film lopes along, much like Groundhog Day, first having fun with its concept and then getting down to the nitty-gritty of self-examination (and winning a war). Liman wisely doesn’t pretend that this is all new, he just steers headlong into the eventual explosion-laden climax. There’s the whisper of a romance here between Cage and Rita but it’s as if Liman knew we knew he’d go there and steers around it. Unlike say, Source Code, another film pitched around the repetition of a chunk of time, Edge of Tomorrow, allows some rank-and-file emotion but doesn’t get bogged down in melodrama. Better to die, laugh it off and try again tomorrow. In this way, however, the conclusion of the film does feel like a bit of a cheat, despite providing the happy ending we knew would be there waiting. After all, Tom Cruise is constant and he saves the day.

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray had to learn how to be a good man. In Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise has to learn how to be a hero. It is literally a repetitive story. Then again, tell it the right way and it works no matter how many times we’ve seen it before.

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2 responses to “Tom Cruise Constant: An “Edge of Tomorrow” Review

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