This is one of those times that Hollywood confuses me. Here they’ve gone and made a fun, exciting, engaging, and intelligent sci-fi action movie and what little marketing its had has made it seem like something it’s really not: generic.
Yeah, you’re reading this right folks. Edge of Tomorrow is pretty great and you should totally see it.
If you’ve seen the trailers then you know the basic set up: Tom Cruise is William Cage, an officer in the US Military with little combat experience who is assigned to the front lines of an impending battle with an invading alien force. During the attack he is violently killed but in the process hijacks the aliens power to manipulate time and each time he dies he loops back to the start of the day, à la Groundhog Day. Eventually he meets Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski who recognizes what’s happening to him because it happened to her which is what made her the hero of the previous battle: she repeated it until she won.
What the marketing doesn’t show is that Cage isn’t just an officer with limited combat experience, he actually has no experience. He’s a press liaison officer who actively avoids and isn’t even trained for combat because he’s a coward and he’s stripped of rank and thrust onto the front lines by the commanding general (Brendan Gleeson) after trying to get out of joining the attack.
This is an important point because Tom Cruise is fantastic in this role. I know some of you can’t see past the Tom Cruise of it all when you’re watching a movie he’s in but he’s seriously great. As his arc progresses through lord knows how many groundhog day style loops the script makes some interesting choices but where it really works is that rather becoming a battle hardened hero Cage actually become progressively more war-weary and mentally and emotionally exhausted from the loops and from watching people he’s come to care about (but who meet him for the first time each day) die horribly over and over. Cruise’s performance captures all of this and more. He’s understated and you can really see his body language change as he gets more skilled in battle but also more morose as the loops drag on.
Emily Blunt does well too. Marvel is presumably looking for someone to play Ms. Marvel whenever they make that movie and they’d do well to put Blunt at the top of the list. Give her a massive sword and a shotgun and she delivers the badassery pretty much non stop. She also does really well getting across the PTSD she must surely suffer from having dealt with looping so many times herself.
The supporting cast is all having a blast making the movie too but Bill Paxton as the sergeant who greets Cage as he wakes up each day steals every scene he’s in with his false Kentucky charm and utter contempt for Cage he gets most of the best one liners and all the best insults.
The film has a few faults but it’s intelligent enough to know how to deal with them. Explanations of the time travel mechanics for example are a little awkward but much of the time the characters get out just enough to let you know what’s going on before someone –often Cage saying “[insert the basics here], we already talked about this”– cuts them off. It sounds silly but it works.
Doug Liman and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth all seem to understand that exposition bogs down a movie so much of what we learn is shown, not told, which is a refreshing change and when the troops land on the beach the action is nicely choreographed and it’s just plain fun to watch Cage go through the motions of trying out different things on the battlefield over and over. It plays out like a video game, Cage starts out useless but each time he respawns he gets a little bit better and you root for him just a little bit more.
So there it is. Edge of Tomorrow is kind of great. The action is good, the story is intelligent and funny, and Tom Cruise gives one of the better performances in recent memory going through an actual believable transformation on screen. So go see it already.