Ask most sci-fi geeks and they’ll tell you that if there was ever an addendum to be made to that old Hollywood axiom of not working with kids or animals, it would be to also never do time travel stories. Sure, some filmmakers have done amazing things with the concept of time manipulation, but for every Primer we get about 10 prime-stinkers.
One of the most beloved time-related stories is Harold Ramis and Bill Murray’s wryly heart-warming Groundhog Day, which followed a man stuck in a time loop that forced him to relive the same day over and over again. The kicker is that he retains his knowledge of the previous iterations, and is thus able to explore different options until he found the one path that led him to romantic happiness. Transplanting that scenario to a big budget, visual effects-laden, sci-fi alien invasion blockbuster starring the eternally youthful Tom Cruise – he of the karate chop running – doesn’t sound like it should work, but it completely does in Edge of Tomorrow.
What’s even more surprising about the film is that director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith) never forgets that time travel is a funny thing. Literally. As Cruise’s Major William Cage – more cowardly public relations poster boy than real soldier – finds himself dropped against his will into the blood and surf slaughterhouse of a seaside battle against extra-terrestrial invaders who have gained a foothold in Western Europe, it evokes all the confused carnage and horrific sights of WW2 D-Day landings in Normandy (the fact that the movie releases just a little more than a week after the 70th anniversary of that historic day cannot be a coincidence).
And yet, when the embarrassingly unprepared Cage finds himself dying a screaming death mere minutes later, covered in hot beach sand and alien blood, only to abruptly wake up again at the start of the day, being harangued all over again by Bill Paxton’s quippy Sergeant Farrell, Liman manages to deftly play up the entertainment value of a gamely bewildered Tom Cruise who is not quite sure what is happening to him.
And the further into the time loop we go, the wittier proceedings get, dripping in black gallows humour. Especially when Cage encounters Emma Blunt’s geek wet dream soldier (she’s a badass attractive lady in a mech suit with a giant sword straight out of a Final Fantasy collection!), Rita Vrataski, who may know the secret to his timey-wimey predicament. She decides to train Cage, day by looping day, before “resetting” him every time with a straight-faced death, much to Cage’s hilariously desperate attempts to convince her he’s still okay (“‘Tis but a scratch!”)
But it’s not all ball busting ladies and funny leading men though. Through Liman’s accomplished action direction – boasting equal parts cool and grit – and Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth’s script (based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s Japanese light novel “All You Need is Kill”), the film always keeps your eyes open and your pulse up. Liman and his writers masterfully stitch together the constant looping brought on by every one of Cage’s many, many subsequent deaths, so that scenes never feel redundant and the pace just constantly pumps ahead with the same unwavering robo-Juggernaut determination as the film’s futuristic super- soldiers in their amazingly detailed mech suits, known as “Jackets”.
These Jackets and the fiery devastation they bring about, as well as the creepy, shifting fractal-looking alien “Mimics” and the frantic carnage they inflict in turn, are all realized magnificently through a combination of incredible practical and computer generated effects. Cinematographer Dion Beebe also really nails the visuals, with a ghostly underwater swim being one of the highlights.
In fact on a technical level, there’s very little to fault Edge of Tomorrow on; the film looks and sounds amazing, even if it can be said that it borrows several elements from a plethora of sci-fi and video game staples. Strong performances from the film’s leads – Tom Cruise gets a long overdue break from always just playing Tom Cruise by actually having a character with a proper arc, and Emily Blunt turns in a “full metal” performance that should elevate her to true action heroine status – also help to sell the film’s admittedly kooky story. A story that is handled unexpectedly cleverly for a blockbuster of this ilk.
That is until it gets just a little too clever for its own good in the final moments, as the film’s logic, nearly unflappable until then despite its outlandishness, gets tossed aside in favour of sentimentality. Don’t be surprised to find yourself greeting the credits with a head-scratching “Huh?”
But other than that acute case of logic-head-lice and a mild bout of narratively convenient plot holes, Edge of Tomorrow offers a gripping, pulse pounding and highly entertaining sci-fi action thrill ride, constructed far more smartly than the genre usually needs these movies to be. Yes, it may not quite stick its landing, but everything before that will have you looping this one over and over again.
Last Updated: May 8, 2017