The summer movie slate is packed to the rafters with superheroes. Most are consummate good guys. While many of them have a couple character faults, they’re ready to fight for the greater good without hesitation.
There are many things to love about the alien-invasion-war-epic-time-travel movie Edge of Tomorrow, but the most endearing aspect is that the central hero is a coward. He doesn’t want to save the world. He’d rather hide hoping someone else picks up the slack. It’s a refreshing departure from the gung-ho heroes we’re used to seeing; heroes that seem to only exist for the sole purpose of saving the world from world-conquering villains, forces and invasions.
There’s a scene, a few minutes into Edge of Tomorrow, where Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is discussing the war effort with a particular no-nonsense general played by Brendan Gleeson. Cage is a PR talking head for the Army. A man brought in to sell the military as a glorious beacon of humanity-saving might. A pretty face, with an illustrious officer’s title, whose sole purpose is to recruit. A salesman in a military uniform.
In this scene Cage thinks he’s been called in on a standard PR mission. The general quickly advises him that he’ll be thrust into the front lines of tomorrow’s main offensive. Cage swiftly backtracks and tries to weasel his way out of a direct order. Sacrifice is an alien notion to him. He’s an advertising man disguised as a soldier. His attempt to get out of going to war is relatable because it’s something most of us would try.
Why is Cage going to war? Well, a race of highly evolved, hive-minded aliens has taken over much of Europe, and they threaten to take over the world. They’ve been held at bay by a new human invention: an exoskeleton suit of armor worn by soldiers that essentially creates super-soldiers. The suits appear needlessly unwieldy and are the only real problem with the movie. They don’t seem like a logical solution to the present problem. However, you’ll have to buy into their necessity for the movie to really work, much in the way you had to accept that giant robots were the most logical way to battle giant monsters in Pacific Rim.
Think Groundhog Day as the basic framework of the movie. Cage, thrust into battle unprepared and unwilling, is killed within minutes. He then awakes at the same moment, at the beginning of the same day, with a memory of what has already happened to him.
What makes Edge of Tomorrow so downright enjoyable as a heady sci-fi thriller, is its taut screenplay penned by Christopher McQuarrie. Based off of the novel “All You Need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the screenplay is a darkly comedic, time-travel story with fresh characters and new spins on old ideas. McQuarrie knows how to get the best sardonic wit out of Cruise. He showed it with his screenplay for Jack Reacher, and he does it here again. The humorous moments are surprising, but welcome. A way to break up the constant time traveling and plot development.
I lost track of how many things I really liked about Edge of Tomorrow, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fine work of Emily Blunt. The chemistry between Cruise and Blunt is magnetic from the outset. Blunt’s character is the face of the war effort. A real-life alien-killing superhero. Though she has secrets of her own. The two form a team. For her own reasons, she’s the only one who understands what Cage is experiencing and why.
The way that time travel is structured works to the movie’s advantage. Montages are a given, as Cage has to train at some point. Yet, even though he lives the same day repeatedly, we’re still left in the dark in regards to situations he’s experienced. We hop around from the known to the unknown so fast we have no idea when we’re going to be surprised by Cage’s knowledge. It really is exhilarating.
Somehow Edge of Tomorrow energetically packs together a disparate collection of narrative elements into a cohesive, engaging whole. One might quibble with logical ideas on display, like why are so many alien-invading forces in movies hampered by the drawbacks of hive-mindedness? You just have to go with it. If you buy into the premise, which is easy given its instant likability, the rest of the movie is joyful, premium summer blockbuster filmmaking.