Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Tom Cruise’s various forays into science fiction have been hit or miss at the box office. 2002’s Minority Report was a success, and the 2005 adaptation of War of the Worlds even more so. But when it comes to 2013’s Oblivion, let’s just say it was only in theaters for a few weeks before it lived up to its title. (Some might suggest that Cruise’s personal faith also counts as an extended foray into science fiction, but those people would not be me, as my legal counsel is the real-world equivalent of Lionel Hutz.)
That previous failure may be the reason why last year’s Edge of Tomorrow also disappointed, due to ads and trailers that made it look like Oblivion 2, not to mention how it was saddled with a forgettable, meaningless title. The movie is based on Japanese writer Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 book All You Need is Kill, and while that Engrish-y title definitely needed changing, it’s unclear why the studio chose something better suited to a Douglas Sirk melodrama than a sci-fi actioner.
A Groundhog Day-inspired romp with aliens thrown in for good measure, Edge of Tomorrow found its tagline of “Live. Die. Repeat.” given greater prominence than its actual title on the home video releases, where a number of reviewers have finally caught up with it and proclaimed it an underrated gem. It’s definitely much better than you’d expect from its bland marketing, though I’m not sure if it lives up to its sudden status as a new cult classic.
The movie throws Cruise into action as Major William Cage, a military officer in name only, as his true talent lies in public relations and spinning the news of an ongoing war effort in favor of the United Defense Force (UDF). The UDF is a global military organization brought together, as is so often the case, because aliens have shown up and decided that we all need to die.
The aliens are called Mimics, which conjures up Mystique-style shape-shifting abilities, but they’re actually sinewy, tentacled beasts. In any case, Earth is in mortal peril from these creatures, who have taken over most of Europe in a curiously similar manner to the Nazis, stopping short of the English Channel and setting the scene for a D-Day style offensive launched out of Britain and into France.
This effort is to prove the downfall/making (delete as applicable) of Major Cage, who’s summoned by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to UDF’s London headquarters and asked to head to the front line for a heavily-armed photo op. Declining the invitation to distribute his internal organs across a beach in northern France, Cage is informed that this is an order. After Cage attempts to blackmail the general into letting him go, he’s tazered, flagged as a deserter, and unceremoniously dumped on a pile of baggage at a staging post on Heathrow Airport. Odd behavior for a military body with presumably strict procedures, but a crucial place where our hero will wake up many more times before the movie is out.
From here, Cage enters a repetitive cycle in which director Doug Liman (redeeming himself with sci-fi fans here after inflicting Jumper on them eight years prior) channels Harold Ramis, albeit taking things in a very different direction (less Andie MacDowell, more Alien MindControl). Under the command of Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton), Cage is railroaded into a ragtag (aren’t they all?) band of soldiers who understandably take an immediate dislike to the PR man. They strap him into a standard-issue exoskeleton without explaining how to use it, and proceed to mock him all the way to the beach.
Which is where the operation turns out to be an obvious ambush, and Cage’s entire unit is slaughtered by Mimics. Cage holds out remarkably well, even killing one of the larger aliens known as an Alpha, before being sprayed with its blood and getting crushed to death in the process.
The end? Not quite.
True to the movie’s tagline, Cage wakes up back at the same Heathrow base where he was first found sleeping. It’s the previous morning and he’s set to live through the same day once again. And again. And again. And… have you ever had déjà vu?
And… have you ever had déjà vu?
He returns to the same beach time after time, unable to escape or argue his way out of the scenario despite several amusing attempts. Eventually, he recognizes iconic soldier Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), known as the “Heavy Metal Bitch” and also the “Angel of Verdun” after her starring role in the UDF’s only victory against the Mimics to date. During his umpteenth iteration of the battle, he uses his foreknowledge of future events to save her life with incredible ease, and to his shock, she immediately understands what he’s going through, and tells him to seek her out the next time he wakes up.
After his next reboot, he finds her at the base and again explains what’s happening to him. Vrataski informs Cage that his inability to die was caused by being exposed to the blood of the Alpha, a power that she also had once, but which disappeared after she received a blood transfusion following Verdun.
Over the course of many more deaths and rebirths, Vrataski trains Cage and he goes from PR flack to finely honed killing machine. Cage also meets a discredited scientist (Noah Taylor) who theorizes that the aliens have the ability to control time through an organism called the Omega, and are using this power to restart battles until they win. When the blood of the Alpha hit Cage, the power to reset time was passed onto him, and now the Omega needs to take Cage alive and steal his blood to get back the ability to reset the day. And of course, the same organism is also the central point of control for all Mimics, so if they destroy the Omega, they win the war.
Cage and Vrataski attempt numerous tactics to find the Omega, with Cage unfortunately having to repeatedly off himself, or be killed by Vrataski to give them another opportunity to succeed. After killing himself for the 2,578th time (death estimations are approximate), they discover the alien hive mind is underneath the Louvre art museum in Paris. Genocidal, yet classy.
Alas, Cage ends up injured in a car crash, which leads to a blood transfusion and loss of his ability to repeat the day. This sets up a tense showdown where Cage and Vrataski recruit his earlier military gang of oddballs to go after the Omega. It’s an odd “get the band back together” moment, given that they all hate Cage’s guts, but the presence of the legendary Vrataski is enough to get them to sign up for a suicide mission. The squad commandeers a military aircraft and heads to Paris, where a series of action-packed sacrifices prove enough to get Cage into the belly of the beast.
I would describe the big finale, but that hardly seems necessary, because you already know the filmmakers won’t be able to resist punching that big giant Reset Button to undo all the various deaths and give everyone their requisite upbeat ending.
Edge of Tomorrow has a lot going for it. There’s all the action and complex plot lines of an enjoyable sci-fi romp, even with the reliance on tried-and-trusted themes from the genre’s playbook. The live/die/repeat angle adds an engaging twist and affords the cast plenty of comic moments in the form of “how did he know that?” head-scratching. And to be honest, there’s a lot of fun to be had in watching Tom Cruise get shot in the face time after time. The two lead characters of Cage and Vrataski vacillate between untrusting and inseparable, forming an intriguing bond that keeps things interesting thanks to the constant need to rebuild the relationship whenever Cage dies.
Even with these high points, though, there are some gaping plot holes that must be overlooked to accept the outcome of the movie. Why these clearly advanced aliens need to rely on an extended ground war in Europe (perhaps they’re history buffs?) for starters, as well as the coincidental appearance of exactly the right people and weapons to defeat them. Also, how many times have we seen aliens with a “hive mind” where killing the “queen” causes all the drones to suddenly stop dead in their tracks? This is a cliché we’ve seen time and again, in everything from Starship Troopers to Dark City to Ender’s Game to The World’s End, and that’s just the movies covered on this website.
This is a film that keeps you entertained, but seems undeserving of the instant-classic reception it’s received in the months since its release. It’s amusing and engaging in equal parts, but hardly cries out for a second viewing, due to there being no lingering questions or mysteries at the film’s end. And once Cage loses the ability to reset time, the movie devolves into a pretty standard action picture, as we ride along on a mission full of dark, murky footage that goes on for way too long.
Admittedly, any movie that manages to eclipse the larger-than-life presence of Tom Cruise has achieved something in its own right, but that doesn’t immediately raise it to the level of truly epic sci-fi stories. Like, for example, Dianetics. Um… anyone know a good lawyer?