This isn’t going to be a long review (I know, I’ve said that before), not because this is a bad or unnotable film, but because A. it’s so complex that a detailed synopsis would ruin it and take forever to write and B. it’s exactly what it needs to be–a summer action thriller that takes a gimmick and uses it extremely well. It’s not a game-changing **** masterpiece or anything (on the whole, I prefer Groundhog Day), but going by what it is, it’s just dandy.
In the not-distant future, Earth has been invaded by alien creatures called Mimics. The United Defense Forces, a multinational coalition, have been leading the war against them. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a former Madison Avenue ad executive turned UDF spokesman, who is ordered by UDF commander Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to join UDF forces in an assault on the Mimics in northern France. Cage, who has no combat experience, demurs, and when he tries to talk his way out of the assignment, Brigham has him arrested as a deserter.
Sent to Heathrow Airport, base of operations for the attack, Cage is put in the hands of Master Sgt. Farrell (Bill Paxton), who refuses to believe Cage’s claims of innocence and assigns him to the hard-bitten J Squad. The following morning, Cage is put in one of the UDF’s battlesuits, despite not knowing how to operate it, and is sent into battle with the rest of the UDF’s forces. The Mimics appear to have anticipated their attack and inflict heavy casualties; Cage figures out the basics of the suit and holds his own for a time, but when a particularly large and menacing Mimic appears and he kills it, he himself is killed when its acidic blood eats through his body.
Cage then awakens to find himself on the tarmac at Heathrow, as if the reset button had been hit. Sure enough, he re-encounters Farrell and J Squad, exactly as they were the day before, and he’s sent into battle once again, and is again killed–and again wakes up on the tarmac, with no understanding of how he has come to be in this loop.
A celebrity soldier, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), also known as the “Angel of Verdun”, is a participant in the battle and during one of the repetitions tells Cage to find her when he re-awakens. He does so and soon learns that, by absorbing the blood of the Mimics, he has acquired their ability to manipulate and repeat time–the same thing which happened to Vrataski at Verdun, but when she did not die and was instead hospitalized and given a transfusion, she was removed from the loop.
The Mimics, we learn, have a kind of hive-mind, and Cage has visions of a remote location where their theorized hive-brain resides. In theory, destroying this would defeat the Mimics. Cage and Vrataski try to find a way to do this while not jeopardizing their position in the loop.
The possibilities of the loop gimmick are well explored here. From the ways in which Cage’s attempts to control things go very wrong (he attempts to roll under a passing truck and is presumably crushed, prompting an exasperated response from Paxton), to the ways in which he desperately tries to use his privileged to prove his story, only to be met with confusion and the refusal to believe, it’s a carefully judged use of the concept, and one neither feels cheated nor surfeited.
(Mild spoiler) Even when Cage falls out of the loop in the final third of the film, it doesn’t feel like a cop-out, because his renewed sense of disorientation (near the end, asked what happens next, he replies, “I’ve never made it this far”) is really quite engaging. It taps into what Dr. Manhattan would call “the delights of uncertainty”; it’s like playing a video game, having to redo the same part of it time and again–and feeling invigorated on breaking through and being able to advance and do new things. (End of spoilers)
Some have felt that the third act (especially the final scenes) doesn’t live up to the first part of the film, but while the very ending does seem like a case of the film wanting to have its cake and eat it too, it’s not a betrayal of the material. It’s just Hollywood.
Adapted from the “light novel” All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the script by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez & John-Henry Butterworth is deftly crafted, with humor, tension, and a dash of romance (which is pleasantly organic), all mixed for maximum palatability. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but it’s not meant as such. It’s just a very well-crafted blockbuster script. Some of the trimmings are a bit much–the character of Kimmel (Tony Way), an obese grotesque who fights with nothing on under his battlesuit, threatens to tip over into crassness–but on the whole, it’s an expertly made film.
Doug Liman’s direction helps, denying neither the tension nor the humor in the material, and staging some pretty solid action into the bargain. The Mimics are a strange alien race, most of them being a kind of hyperactive tentacled mechano-beast which rarely stands still long enough to be analyzed, while others are more reptilian in appearance, and radiate energy while glaring at one with burning eyes and gaping mouths; they’re really quite menacing, and Liman makes excellent use of them. The pace rarely if ever flags, and the characterizations are given their due attention–the camera actually stands still when they talk and lets the dialogue carry the scene. It’s very satisfactory.
After the abysmally tedious Oblivion, I had some concerns about further star vehicles for Tom Cruise, but I needn’t have worried; he’s in fine form here, starting off as a cocky douche (par for the course) and slowly developing as he realizes what he must do to save the day and escape the loop. Cruise doesn’t try to glorify Cage or oversell his emotional shifts, but doesn’t coast for a second either. It may not be his most accomplished performance by any means, but he nails it from start to finish. Plus, the final shot is a perfectly Cruisian moment.
Emily Blunt is sometimes ill-served by Hollywood (her casting as a Kansan in Looper still baffles me, especially given how thankless the role was), but here she does a great job as the celebrity soldier, helped greatly by a script that doesn’t try to make Rita artificially tough or diminish her in favor of Cruise. Vrataski has clearly been through some hell, and Blunt sells it. Her budding romance with Cruise is also played subtly and gracefully, again helped by the script’s restraint.
Brendan Gleeson does all right with his relatively small role, but the real standout in the supporting cast is Bill Paxton as the cheerfully smug Farrell, whose credo, that only the self is the master of one’s fate (hence his vehement opposition to gambling), is an unwitting encapsulation of the whole film’s philosophy. Farrell clearly could not give a shit less about anything anyone else thinks (he blithely expresses indifference to the source of his hometown’s (Science City, Georgia) name), and Paxton relishes his good-natured arrogance. Had the film (and the character) been a touch quirkier), the character could develop a real little cult. As it is, he’s still one of the best parts of it.
It’s technically quite accomplished; Dion Beebe’s cinematography and Christophe Beck’s music are both quite good, but it’s James Herbert’s editing and the visual effects which really make it click. The film flows quite well, and the loop structure never becomes confusing or tedious, while the Mimics are genuinely creepy–the gape-mouthed ones are especially frightening. They’re not complex antagonists, but they don’t really need to be.
Edge of Tomorrow is about all you could reasonably expect from a summer action film; it’s exciting, engaging, and doesn’t feel like it’s pandering to the viewer. There are better blockbusters out there, of course, but this delivers on its promises quite sufficiently. It’s definitely worth it.