Don’t let Tom Cruise’s climbing age nor the completely generic title of Edge of Tomorrow lead you astray; it is the most entertaining and original non-franchise blockbuster film to come out in a very long time.
What’s it all about? Well, the title Edge of Tomorrow gives you absolutely nothing. Warner Bros. should have stuck with the title of the book from which it’s adapted – All You Need Is Kill – but even that title only makes sense if you know the basic premise of the movie. Perhaps the most fitting title, both story-wise and relevancy-wise, that they could have given it is A Million Ways to Die in the Future.
Set in the very near future, a war for territory has consumed Europe – only the enemy is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. A quick-adapting alien race called “Mimics” has completely taken over Europe. Now, humankind has united to vanquish this species-threatening alien before it can invade any farther.
The movie kicks off with series of newscasts explaining this situation. They also introduce us to the leading character, the United States Army’s head public relations spinster, Major William Cage (Cruise). After the title card, we see Cage arrive in London to receive new orders, orders that he’s willing to get himself in deep trouble for refusing. The army wants Cage to suit-up in a soldier’s exoskeletal weapon and take a camera crew to the front line to show the world how easy it is to kill Mimics with this new weaponry. When he refuses, he’s stripped of rank and forced to join other military misfits on the same Normandy beach that American soldiers stormed in World War II.
Not being a soldier and not knowing how to use the exoskeleton, Cage doesn’t last long – but that’s just fine because something that happened on the beach that will keep him looping through the 24-hour period leading up to his death over and over again. Every time he dies, he wakes up 24 hours earlier, to the time just before he meets the same insubordinate troops that he will died alongside. Just like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, Cage tries something new each day with the hope that he’ll survive just a little bit longer – but it doesn’t take long for him to realize that he needs the help of the Army’s best fighter out there, the super-soldier iconic “Uncle Sam” propaganda tool of the U.S. Army, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt).
There are two ways that a gimmicky repetitive movie plot like this can go: the way of snoozefest Vantage Point, or the way of smart and thrilling Source Code. To our advantage, Edge of Tomorrow follows that latter. Yes, we see many things repeated, but not once in a dry fashion. There’s always humor, tension or emotion making it feel like it’s the first time that we’ve seen it, which – when you think about it – is true because it’s the first time that Cage has lived this experience in this way. Constantly trying new things and never making the same mistake twice, each time is a completely new experience for him. And, just like Groundhog Day, we never know exactly how long he has been stuck in this loop. We never know if what we’re watching is the first time that he’s done what he’s doing or if it’s the millionth. This is yet another of the many smart ways that Edge of Tomorrow keeps us on our toes. It keeps us from becoming disengaged, stagnant spectators – which is where Vantage Point truly failed.
I only found one flaw with Edge of Tomorrow (aside from its lame title): the time between the movie opening and Cage’s first death is a little slow. The fun and, at times, comedic tone isn’t established until he starts dying. After that, the movie blows by in the most entertaining fashion. But the opening is a bit lifeless. Fortunately, absolutely everything that follows is rich with entertainment, style, class and even high quality. Had it not been for that brief dry spell, I would have given Edge of Tomorrow a perfect five-star review.
No matter how Edge of Tomorrow fares at the box office this weekend, it deserves better. It’s rare that we’re handed fun, playful and action-packed movies like this. For several years now, the summer blockbuster season has been lacking in original concepts. Franchises are all the rage with studios, but sequels are getting boring. Edge of Tomorrow is everything that summer moviegoing is all about.
(Photo credit: Warner Bros.)