EDGE OF TOMORROW Review: It’ll Be Just Like Starting Over
When my children were younger, and as cliché as it sounds, I occasionally said to them, “When I was a kid …,” which I followed with something completely archaic, like, “… we only had three TV networks, PBS, and a few UHF channels.” (If you don’t know what “UHF” is, Google it and then get off my lawn.)
As they have grown, I have gone to this line less and less (mostly because I think I’ve said them all – many times over). However, I still find myself thinking it, particularly when they play video games – not in the context of the great advancement in video game construct, graphics, sound, etc. (which is all certainly true), but in the basic concept of being able to “save” a game where you are and pick it up later from where you left off.
You see, when I was a kid (it’s so easy to slip back into that), we had no save mechanism for our video games. If we got 90% through a game but had to stop (or if our character died), then the next time we picked up the game we had to start from the beginning. Every time. That was the bad news. The good news was that each time that happened, we got better and better at the early parts of the game, so getting deeper into the game became easier and quicker with each restart – just like it does for the main character in Edge of Tomorrow. The difference is that when he dies and starts over, he literally dies and starts over.
The world has been at war with a race of invading aliens called “mimics” for five years and the world, with its single global military known as the United Defense Forces (UDF), has been losing the battle. But after a big victory in Verdun (France) and encouraged by the success of new military exoskeletons called “jackets” (that turn soldiers into fighting machines), the UDF commander, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), is ready to launch Operation Downfall. He wants the world the see this live, so he intends to embed Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), the UDF’s spokesperson who normally appears on all of the cable news programs, with a unit being deployed on the shores of Northern France.
Cage doesn’t want to go, but not only is he forced to, he is forced to don his own jacket and fight alongside the rest of the unit. (All of this is staged in a clever way that I wont spoil here). During the battle for which he is ill-prepared to fight, his unit is ambushed by the mimics. Cage struggles to even get off a shot but he winds up killing a special mimic known as an “alpha.” In the process, Cage winds up covered in the alpha’s blood and then dies.
Then he wakes up … the day before. Something has happened to him that he has been given the chance to relive the time from when he first arrives at the military base and forward, with the chance to do things differently. In the process he learns a little, dies, wakes, learns, dies, wakes, and so on. He eventually seeks help from Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the soldier on all of the posters whose story of going from having “no combat experience” to being called “the Angel of Verdun” (because of her body count there) has been leveraged by the military as the ultimate jacket success story. Cage learns that Rita was once like him – and also learns that Operation Downfall is forever doomed to fail. It’s up to the duo to find the “omega,” the single source of power for all of the alphas and mimics, and kill it.
I’m reluctant to say that Edge of Tomorrow is a terrific film because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, since that suggests there might be some winking to the audience going on and that is not the case here. I think it’s better to say that it’s a terrific film because it doesn’t take itself too heavily.
There is an inherent weight that comes with any film where time travel is integral to the plot; this film is no different. And even though Cage’s time travels are not done in the traditional sense (a la the Back to the Future trilogy), there is still a cerebral element to his path because every day he wakes, Cage must do something different to alter his path from the day before. Then once he finds the right differences, he has to repeat those parts. This is plenty to keep track of (including the fact that Rita has been where Cage is now, with its own set of learnings), and the screenwriters are wise to keep it at that. There are no heady subplots or twists upon twists involving someone you didn’t could do something and yet did. They give you the sci, the fi, and the action, and that is plenty.
Director Doug Liman does a great job at keeping this cadence of two steps forward, one step back at a sharp pace. When your story involves as much repetition as this one does – particularly early in the film – it is critical to make sure the audience isn’t bored because it’s moving too slow or lost because it’s moving too fast. Plus, keeping it all working within large action set-pieces is no mean feat, but Liman does it well. Editor James Herbert deserves credit as well; Cage lives his day an endless number of times and we are shown this through quick, efficient clips that are finely cut.
Strong sci-fi/action females are hard to find. Sigourney Weaver‘s Ripley (the Alien films) and Linda Hamilton‘s Sarah Connor (the Terminator films) spring to mind, but more recent entries from The Hunger Games and Divergent are less sci-fi and more YA. I was hopeful the Rita character would be good, but boy, I didn’t see Emily Blunt coming. While this isn’t a franchise character like Ripley or Connor, Blunt plays it with franchise-like gravitas. She is strong and cunning, smart and sexy, she can wield that … what, sword? … with the best of them, and she doesn’t take any grief from anybody. And where Cage is the face of the war, Rita is the face of the warriors. She is the poster. I would stand in line for a prequel featuring Blunt-as-Rita and her time-looping adventure that got her face on that poster. (Oh, and “Full Metal Bitch” is a GREAT nickname.)
Above all else, though, this is a Tom Cruise movie, and Cruise is very well cast. Despite his action pedigree, he seems perfectly natural as the reluctant soldier – the talking haircut who has used his looks and charm to avoid precarious situations, now suddenly thrust into one. His reluctance, his fear, and his fumbling come across naturally. Of course, as his day endlessly repeats, he gets better and better at battle and becomes the action star we grew up with.
Edge of Tomorrow is a fun sci-fi/action movie that plays like a great video game hybrid of old and new. From the old comes the expertise gained by working through the early stages over and over, and from the new comes sensational sound and visuals. And bridging these is Cruise, the ageless star who has dazzled us in both eras.