As high concepts go, Edge of Tomorrow has one that is delightfully simple. In the near future, a recently demoted soldier named Cage (Tom Cruise) finds himself doomed to repeat the same battle over and over again, waking up to restart at the exact same moment every time he is killed. Not only must he learn from his mistakes to survive a bit longer each time, but he must also figure out why this is happening to him and how he can use this new power to his advantage.
It’s inevitable that for anyone discussing this film, Groundhog Day (and to an extent Source Code) will always be the comparisons that crop up. And yet director Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity) and writer Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) use these associations to their advantage and deliver a slick sci-fi action movie that is both smart and full of great performances. What’s most surprising, however, is the amount of humour also included here, which although somewhat unexpected (due to the subject matter: an alien invasion ruthlessly wiping out mankind and a main character that dies many, many times) is both welcome and (crucially) works in context. It’s a brave choice that could easily have backfired and yet here, adds some levity to what could otherwise have ended up just being a grim slog.
That's not to say it’s all jokes, though. The invasion itself, established during the opening succinctly through flashes of news footage and media sound bites (much like the opening of Pacific Rim), sets the scene quickly and efficiently, and the ‘mimics’ themselves are an excellently designed (thankfully, non-humanoid) tentacled threat, that roll around at a frightening pace. The repeated battle – a beach landing reminiscent of that sequence from Saving Private Ryan – is an impressive depiction of the chaos and confusion of an ill-judged frontal assault. One can’t help but feel that a little more blood and horror would have increased the effectiveness of these sequences, however.
Despite approaching 52, Cruise still has the action chops, charm and heroism to pull off a determined protagonist, but the real treat here is seeing him start off as a cowardly and slippery PR executive who tries everything to get out of being in danger, making his eventual transition into a reluctant hero later on all the more satisfying. Elsewhere, Brendan Gleeson is dependable as the General in charge of the war effort, Noah Taylor pops up as a nervy scientist and Bill Paxton is enjoyable as the maxim-spouting Master Sergeant.
However it is the other lead, Rita (Emily Blunt), that also gets to shine. As the war-forged battle maiden nicknamed ‘The Angel of Verdun’, she wields a manga-esque oversized blade and barely hesitates when putting a bullet in Cage’s head for the umpteenth time. Blunt plays the strong female well, but it is the slivers of vulnerability that gradually become more apparent as we spend more time with her that adds subtlety and layers to her character – something which elevates her performance from just being a two-dimensional and clichéd male fantasy.
Despite the obvious manga influences (the story is based on a Japanese novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, with the wonderfully nonsensical title of ‘All You Need is Kill’), Edge of Tomorrow shares more of its DNA with that of a difficult videogame: the repeated trial and error approach of progression through continuously dying, the memorisation of enemy placements and spawn points, the ‘levelling up’ through cumulative training, the small victories earned by managing to reach a different ‘stage’ – it feels like the best videogame film adaptation of a game that doesn’t even exist yet. Those with memories of those kind of rewarding game experiences will certainly feel right at home here.
Even if you that’s not quite your bag, there is plenty more to enjoy here. The exo-suits used by the soldiers are chunky, clunky and realistic – much closer to what is being developed by the military now rather than, say, the future- fantasy tech of Elysium or Avatar. The whole backdrop to the war has a deliberate British WW2 feel (London stands in as the base of operations and the beach landing in France as a way of pushing back the invasion of Europe) which is refreshing to see in the genre.
The shift in gear in the latter half of the movie also helps to keep things fresh. Whereas we originally see nearly all of Cage’s repetitions, much of the intrigue later in the film lies in actually not seeing them. Other characters marvel at his apparent powers of precognition, and we witness touching instances of him attempting to hold on to a fleeting moment of humanity in vain, not knowing how many hundreds, if not thousands of times he may have lived through this same moment just to see it all end in failure and death.
In an ideal world, Edge of Tomorrow may have benefitted from going for a higher certification. The distinct lack of gore and pain takes away much of the feeling of the fear of dying – the multiple ‘resets’ eventually becoming nothing more than a minor inconvenience for Cage. Still, there is much to enjoy here and Edge of Tomorrow comes recommended as an engaging slice of sci-fi that, although clearly and unabashedly influenced by multiple sources, is fresh and engaging in its delivery.
2nd June 2014