'Edge of Tomorrow'
(Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton,Brendan Gleeson, Noah Taylor, et al / PG-13 / 113 mins)
Overview: Edge of Tomorrow unfolds in a near future in which an alien race has hit the Earth in an unrelenting assault, unbeatable by any military unit in the world. Lt. Col. Bill Cage is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage now finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop-forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again and again.
Verdict: “Live. Die. Repeat.” So declares the poster for Edge of Tomorrow, the science fiction blockbuster in which Tom Cruise most resembles a video-game version of himself. Cats get nine lives; Cruise, here, lucks into a seemingly infinite number, each one offering him a chance to deduce what he’s up against and come to humanity’s rescue.
His first death occurs on a beach battlefield in the near future, where human soldiers in massive combat suits are being obliterated by a tentacled alien race. Despite being an army major, Cruise’s William Cage is combat shy – he’s a PR man. These days, when most Cruise vehicles insist a bit tragically on his edgy cool, that counts as against-type casting. It's a smart move on the screenwriters’ part. He’s spoiled and cowardly, which are better attributes for Cruise to play than cynical or battle-hardened.
Forced into this hellish deployment by his uncompromising new superior (Brendan Gleeson), he’s instant toast, struggling even to find the trigger or reload his wrist-mounted weaponry. He perishes in the maw of a particularly fiendish looking alien boss-thing, which spontaneously – and for reasons as yet unexplained – implants the mysterious power of self-resurrection just as he croaks. Suddenly, it’s the same morning, with all the same conversations happening before the airlift, and the same lock-step slaughter awaits. The only variable is that he’s seen it all before.
Hiroshi Sakurazaka wrote All You Need Is Kill, the 2004 book this is derived from. The screenplay, on which Christopher (The Usual Suspects) McQuarrie collaborated with Jez (Jerusalem) Butterworth, converts it into something film fans might grasp from the phrase "Groundhog D-Day". It’s not that Cage is doomed to retrace his steps whatever happens; it’s that, like Bill Murray in the 1993 classic, he has a zillion opportunities to get them right.
Even in Edge of Tomorrow’s world, he’s not the first character to find himself in this predicament. We’re introduced to a fabled warrior, variously referred to as the Angel of Verdun, Full Metal B----, and Rita Vrataski. She’s played by Emily Blunt with a rigidly tough manner and almost no questions asked, except, “Who are you?” and “Why are you interrupting my combat training?”. She once possessed exactly the same powers Cage now has, and used them to inflict heavy losses on the enemy through sheer trial and error, but lost them when an unwitting field nurse gave her a blood transfusion.
The “why” of the film is a little faulty: if you pause too long to worry about what's motivating everything, plausibility starts to crumble. And the early sequences don’t bode well either, with their clunky ensemble playing and rather unattractive design: unlike Cruise’s gorgeous but vacuous Oblivion a year ago, it’s certainly not a vision of the future you spend much time relishing.
Thank heavens, then, for the time-loop gimmick, which sustains a full hour of screen time with enough variations on its gambit to hook you in. It’s moderately clever when the film shifts perspectives – at first, we know only as much as Cage does, but suddenly we realise we’re playing catch-up; we’ve skipped a few of his lives, maybe dozens, maybe as many as hundreds. “You always die here,” he tells Rita at one particularly thorny impasse, which comes as news to both her and us.
These conceits are good enough to make it Doug Liman’s best picture since The Bourne Identity (2002); it certainly beats Jumper (2008) or Mr and Mrs Smith (2005). Only in finding a way out does the film discard its intelligence, throwing sops to an audience it weirdly underestimates. Given the meticulous plan Cage and Rita have concocted to duck and dodge their way minutely through the carnage, it’s absurd how well they’re simply able to wing it later; when anything goes, suspense goes. The dawn of a new day might sound tempting, but the film’s eternal present is, paradoxically, its salvation. Grinding your way through a fiendish game can be vexing, all right, but winning it in the last lap shouldn’t be quite such a piece of cake.