When I think of the Tom Cruise action hero, I think: unflappable, fearless, dashing. In Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise jettisons these traits from the film's first scene, and it makes for an action movie that is not only freshly enthralling, but also could usher in a new stage of his career.
Based on the novel All You Need Is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow plays out like an action-packed version of Groundhog Day. But instead of following a selfish weatherman who needs to learn to open himself up and love, we're following a cowardly soldier who has to unlock the key to defeating an alien invasion force that seems unstoppable. Cruise stars as Bill Cage, a military man who has never seen action and contributes solely as a TV personality who talks up the war effort to lure in new recruits. But when his commanding officer decides Cage should take his camera crew to the front lines of their next major battle, Cage's insubordination lands him in the infantry of an unwinnable battle. Cage is dead within minutes.
Remarkably, he wakes up--with a jolt, but as if the day had never happened. He's at the barracks, the day before the battle, back at one, as it were. He doesn't know why, but again and again he is thrown onto the beach, into the battle, and he dies. It's a scenario that would seem to be episodic, but the script crackles with humor and variations, making Cage's deaths and resurrections as funny as they are shocking. Before long, he discovers he's not the first to experience this repeating pattern, meeting literal poster girl/super soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the Angel of Verdun, The Full Metal Bitch, whose extraordinary combat skills won the day in an epic battle. Together, they team up to use Cage's time-traveling to overcome his Cassandra Complex and save all mankind.
It needs to be said off the top: Tom Cruise is flat-out phenomenal. In the action scenes, he doesn't miss a step, proving once more a believable and compelling action hero. But where the movie earns a great deal of its fun is from the early scenes where Cage is a coward willing to blackmail or even run away to avoid risking his life on the battlefield. It's strange seeing the smiling Cruise play such a chicken-shit, but he sells it. And it makes Cage's arc and plight all the more compelling. He's no hero, but under the circumstances, he must become one. Death is no escape.
Edge of Tomorrow reminds us what a total package Tom Cruise is. He's an extraordinary actor who has an easy comfort in the moment's quieter scenes, but delivers gravitas when needed. He's sensational in the movie's sprawling and spectacular action sequences--full to the brim with extraterrestrial monsters that look fearsome and unfamiliar. His star power shines with every smile and every frustrated death wail (of which there are many). But perhaps best of all, Tom Cruise is really, truly hilarious here.
It sounds gruesome to say that his deaths are played for laughs, but director Doug Liman and editor James Herbert deliver a sharp cut that jettisons us from the cruelty and bloodshed of the battlefield back to Cage's first day in training with a quickness and comedic timing that lands every time. A montage sequence of Cage training under Vrataski, getting injured, then getting shot to "try again" may sound unthinkably dark, but Cruise plays it with frustration instead of fear, making it one of the film's most entertaining sections. (My audience applauded and guffawed again and again.)
I was pleasantly surprised how funny Edge of Tomorrow is, but at its core it is a rousing sci-fi actioner with terrifying aliens, astounding action sequences, and a fascinating story of a world at war. Admittedly, it does pull a cheap shot in its final moments, but it's hard to care too much about this when the final results are so rewarding.
Of course, Cruise's isn't the only notable performance in Edge of Tomorrow. Emily Blunt is a force of nature as the ultimate soldier without mercy or pity. Her Vrataski is a badass that sci-fi fans will cling to as they have Ripley and Sarah Connor. But being as skilled an actress as she is, Blunt also laces in an intriguing emotional thread to her warrior women, without ever making Vrataski seem weak or less than. Also on board as a Kentucky-fried good 'ol boy Master Sergeant is Bill Paxton, who gnaws on every line with a giddy machismo. Brendan Gleeson brings a smirking authority to the role of Cage's commander, General Brigham. Noah Taylor pops in for a brief but bubbly stretch as a "mad" scientist, and even the supporting cast of soldiers bristles with personality and verve.
Edge of Tomorrow is magnificent. After a bit of a slow start, Liman launches us into a war that is gut-rattling in its violence and awe-inspiring in its execution, seamless special effects and action, action, action. Tied to a hero who is initially gutless, we can connect to Cage's fear. When Cruise shifts him into the kind of hero we demand of this megastar, we are hooked hard into this rip-roaring ride. The movie positively pulses with adrenaline, reflected in its powerful performances, clever cuts and its fluid yet exhilarating cinematography that weaves around heroes, explosions, and spiraling space monsters. Edge of Tomorrow will leave you breathless and grinning. Simply put, this is why we go to the movies.
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