As Edge of Tomorrow begins, we are greeted with the kind of montage that has kicked off many a science fiction film before, as director Doug Liman assembles a collection of fake news footage that sets the audience up for the world they are about to enter. Tom Cruise appears in a couple of these clips as well, and the film lets you know that he is not a typical soldier, but a sort of media spokesman. It’s not a particularly auspicious first couple minutes, but then an interesting thing happens: the film quiets down. The first proper scene in the movie is a long, engaging conversation between Cruise’s Major William Cage and Brendan Gleeson’s General Brigham. The editing is patient, and there’s no manipulative music trying to drive anything home. It’s entirely about the two actors, and it allows them to play the scene in a way that establishes who they are and their place in the world. That, in a nutshell, is what makes Edge of Tomorrow so successful. There’s nothing terribly surprising about the story it’s telling, but it presents this story with refreshing wit and personality.
That said, this is still a movie about humanity gearing up for battle against an intelligent alien race that has already taken over much of Europe, and they will do so wearing giant, unwieldy suits that look like a slightly more mobile version of what Ripley used at the end of Aliens. Combine these familiar elements with a plot that’s part Source Code/part Groundhog Day, and you have a summer movie that’s way more fun than any piece of advertising would lead you to believe. Things kick off as our friend William Cage inadvertently finds himself on the front lines of said battle, and early on in the film we watch as he and his comrades are wiped out by the alien force as they attempt a D-Day-style operation in France.
However, once Cage is killed, he returns to the day before the battle, and he is forced to play out the slaughter on the beach again and again. This changes when he meets Rita (Emily Blunt), who has become a legend in her time fighting the extraterrestrial army. She recognizes Cage’s abilities, and trains him with the goal of using his powers to finally get one step ahead of their enemies.
Considering the previews, and Cruise’s recent history, you may think that Cruise’s character is a super-slick fighting machine right out of the box, but that isn’t so. Liman, along with screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, do some really cool things to illustrate Cage’s slow and steady integration into this odd reality. They are also very generous with the gags, which really makes the film stand out when compared with other recent blockbusters. Most have their fair share of jokes, to be sure, but Edge of Tomorrow is the biggest recent action movie to have a fully developed sense of humor about itself. Part of the credit goes to Cruise, who is still very able of playing a man completely out of his element, even if that idea fades away by the end.
Edge of Tomorrow does share a fault with many modern action films in that it can’t quite find a unique or satisfying way to end. There’s CGI galore throughout this film, and as a result the combat scenes are usually the least interesting stretches. Instead of building on its assets to come up with a solid conclusion, the film commits fully to its action movie elements and suddenly starts feeling way more familiar than it had up until that point. For the first 80 or so minutes, Edge of Tomorrow playfully messes around within the standard rules for a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. In the late stretches, it can’t quite find a way to break free and become its own thing.
Still, the mediocre conclusion doesn’t come close to tainting all the fun there is to be had beforehand. Cruise and Blunt have unexpectedly good chemistry as the leads, and the dynamic is especially enjoyable because for once the female is in control of the situation far more than her male counterpart. There are no damsels in distress to be found here. That’s just one of many touches that makes Edge of Tomorrow work. There’s very little here you haven’t seen before, and it may not amount to anything profound, but it’s totally and completely fun in ways other movies of its ilk can only dream of.