Tom Cruise is well known for playing heroes, the kind that are unphased by the desperate circumstances they find themselves in and who always walk away from explosions. It’s all just steely expressions and thrilling antics. I have enjoyed much of his acting in the past (“show me the money” anyone?) but recently it appears that he’s been doing the same action role over and over – Jack in Oblivion, Jack in Jack Reacher etc. It doesn’t help that his physical appearance remains the same from film to film, and I felt like I was watching Tom Cruise and not his character. Whomever he was meant to be was dwarfed by his enormous celebrity presence. All this left me jaded and when I saw his casting in Edge of Tomorrow, I didn’t hold out much hope for his acting talents to resurface. It is however, pleasantly enjoyable to be wrong on this one.
Edge of Tomorrow is based on the novel entitled All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka and the set-up is as follows. In the near future, the forces of humanity are in a desperate struggle to repel an alien invasion of Earth. Major William Cage (Cruise) is part of the military but works only in public affairs, being a self-confessed coward. He is summoned by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) and is stripped of his rank and placed in the front lines of the next big attack – which is likely to be humanity’s last. Through circumstances that I won’t spoil he ends up repeating the same day every time he is killed and with the help of Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) must find a way out and a way to win the war. The elements of the story can feel quite familiar when viewed individually – the near future, alien invasion, mech battle-suits, and the time looping – but it is the combination of these that make Edge of Tomorrow into a fun slice of sci-fi action.
The concept of time looping is not new and many people have likened to Groundhog Day, which has given rise to many witty alternative titles e.g. Saving Private Groundhog or Groundhog D-Day. Wish I could take credit for those. Whilst the comparison is almost inevitable, I was pleased to see that there were no karmic elements, and the reasons for Cage being trapped in the loop are instead tied to the greater plot of the invasion. Despite this, predictability does threaten to rear its ugly head towards the climax of the plot but it manages to avoid straying into genre clichés.
In the overall grimness of the threat of human extinction, it’s impressive that the film-makers manage to include plenty of levity revolving around Cruise’s quivering yellow-belly, and I’m taking quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. It’s great to see a stalwart of action cinema bumble along like a fish-out-of-water and Cruise does this superbly. It’s not only these light touches to the character and his predicament that make Cruise’s performance quite possibly one of his best in a while. He brings a certain pathos to his hapless everyman, caught in a situation that couldn’t be more opposed to his instinctive self-preservation and you understand the struggles he goes through, be they with the battle itself or the growing relationships with the soldiers around him. Emily Blunt is also terrific, as is to be expected of one of the finest actresses currently working, and similar to Cruise as a coward it’s a joy to see her getting tough as a battle-scarred veteran.
There are a few more things that deserve a mention. Doug Liman’s direction is very assured and the way he handles the balance of action and drama is to be applauded, although I shouldn’t be too surprised at that, he did direct The Bourne Identity after all. It may not be to everyone’s tastes but I thought the design of the world was suitably sci-fi, in particular the mech-suits which are industrial and flat out awesome. Slightly at odds with the whole mechanized look is Rita’s weapon of choice – an unfeasibly large sword – but let’s just call that a nod to Japanese gaming and move on.
In a summer filled with sequels, it’s always exciting to see a film that amalgamates some ideas into a fresh viewing experience. You may have seen these elements before, but together with Cruise and Blunt leading the charge, they certainly have the edge over their cinematic opposition.