Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
By: Stuart Giesel on June 14, 2014 | Comments
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Jonas Armstrong
Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Country: USA
Damn you, Tom Cruise. We're supposed to hate you, what with your perpetually boyish good looks even as you've tipped over into your fifties and your involvement with that "organisation" that shan't be named. But what do you do? You keep churning out great movies. Oblivion and Jack Reacher were both flawed but better than they had any right to be, and now you come out with Edge of Tomorrow which is, to be perfectly honest, fucking brilliant.

Now, let me just stop the review right here and now and get something straight. If you're planning on seeing Edge of Tomorrow, or have any interest in it whatsoever but were sitting on the fence about it, just GO SEE THIS MOVIE. Stop reading about it. I had read a little bit more than I probably should have, and whilst it didn't affect my enjoyment of the film – because, let's be clear, this is a massively enjoyable blockbuster – I can only wonder how much more entertaining it might have been if I had gone into it blind.

Certainly, all you need to know if nothing else is that Edge of Tomorrow = Groundhog Day + Saving Private Ryan + Starship Troopers. That, and you should see it. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the most purely enjoyable blockbusters since Jurassic Park. And God knows, we don't get enough of these actually-really-great mega-budgeted Hollywood efforts, so for fuck's sake let's support them when they come out so that we get more Edge of Tomorrows and less Transformers in future.

Okay, you're still with me? Well, rest assured, this is as spoiler-free a review as possible, so to keep it as such, we can't go into too much detail here. Yes, Edge of Tomorrow is a riff on Harold Ramis and Bill Murray's fantastic time-repeating-itself comedy Groundhog Day. In a nutshell, Earth is fighting a war against an alien race which has taken over most of Europe, and the humans are staging a major push back which they believe will turn the tide of the war. It's basically a "fuck it, we're all in" move. Major William Cage (Cruise) is a PR-guy for the military with no combat experience, but is dropped into the front line when he comes under command of General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson). He's put in a company run by Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) and suited up in a combat exo-skeleton, the sort of thing that Matt Damon used in Elysium to far less effect. Unfortunately there's no time for training.

And then Cage dies in combat. And then wakes up back at the military camp. And he realises that this isn't just a case of deja-vu – history really is repeating itself.

So basically much of the film involves Cage working out why he's stuck in a time loop and, in true Groundhog Day fashion, determining how this situation can benefit him. Oh, and war hero Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) also gets involved; Rita likes running around the battlefield with a wonderfully massive Final Fantasy-esque broadsword, slicing and dicing aliens with gusto. She's awesome.

There's plenty more that happens than that broad explanation has covered, of course, but Edge of Tomorrow is one of those films, like Pulp Fiction or Oldboy, that is best experienced as freshly as possible. It's an adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka's graphic novel All You Need is Kill (the original title of the Cruise film which, whilst being grammatically awkward, is probably a more fitting title than the more generic Edge of Tomorrow) and, thankfully, is the type of movie that doesn't treat its audience like morons. Things aren't spelled out to the n-th degree; you're simply swept along by the sheer exuberance and inventiveness of the material. It also helps that there's a superior script (by The Usual Suspects scribe and Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie, amongst others) and expert direction by The Bourne Identity director Doug Liman, as well as a massive amount of other talent on display both in front of and behind the camera.

First things first, Tom Cruise is superb. William Cage certainly isn't the heroic type we commonly associate with Cruise's screen characters, but like Magnolia's loathsome Frank T.J. Mackey, you get the feeling this was one of the aspects that drew Cruise to the material. It might have been liberating in a way. Of course, the time loop concept gives him a chance to evolve his character, but it's a testament to Cruise's ability that he makes this change feel natural and effortless. And Emily Blunt is as much of a standout, possibly even more so, given numerous occasions to shine (or even outshine) her costar. Supporting players are all great, including the always reliable Gleeson, Noah Taylor as an inventive mechanic, and Paxton's fine work as Cage's sergeant.

Edge of Tomorrow is also practically flawless when it comes to behind-the-scenes work. It's hard to be impressed with computer effects these days when anything can be flung onto the screen given enough time and money, but the scenes of war and chaos that Tomorrow generates is truly something to behold – the sequence on Cage's first drop to the beach springs immediately to mind. And whilst there's a bit of shaky-cam action – usually the sign that the director, cinematographer and stunt coordinators are trying to spice up otherwise lacklustre action or to cover up their stars' lack of fighting ability – it suits Edge of Tomorrow's materialperfectly, in much the same way that Janusz Kaminski's jittery, Oscar-winning work in Saving Private Ryan set the benchmark for modern war scenes. Doug Liman also manages to work around the restrictions of the film's PG-13 MPAA rating, in that you really don't mind so much that this is a fairly bloodless affair. It helps that the alien design is a bit weirder than usual and that the battle scenes aren't stiffly staged like the ones we suffered through in Attack of the Clones. The editing is perfect, carrying off some wonderfully entertaining transitions at times.

But whilst Edge of Tomorrow looks and sounds spectacular, with some meaty action and superior CGI, the concept is king. For virtually the entire running time, you're riveted by the twisty, surprising plot, something I really hadn't expected considering this is really just a war-bound Groundhog Day. After all, we've all seen Groundhog Day. How different could Tomorrow be?

It also has to be mentioned that the film is funny. Not side-splittingly hilarious, and not funny in that goofy, idiotic way. No, funny in a smart way, where the laughs are earned and are never cheap, having evolving naturally from the material rather than being added in as an afterthought.

If there is any criticism, things do get a little more sombre in the film's second half, perhaps understandably so, and as the plot is set in motion and things become clearer, some of the giddy exuberance that has infected Tomorrow's first half drops off. As a result, the stakes become higher and even though you might guess how it all turns out, somehow Cruise, Liman and the rest of the cast and crew are able to keep you invested right until the end, and keep things tense despite the nature of the material. Your opinion of the very end may differ, but even if this is the case and you think it's a bit cheap (which I didn't believe to be true), it'd be hard not to wipe the smile off your face at the sheer brilliance of what's come before it.

What more needs to be said? Edge of Tomorrow is that rarest of blockbusters. Like Jurassic Park, Fellowship of the Ring and The Matrix amongst a select few others, it's a blockbuster that doesn't use spectacle to replace a solid and smart story, the sort of film where it feels like every aspect of the production and every person in the cast and crew is working near or at the top of their game. It's also fun. You remember when movies were FUN?

If you're still not convinced, then just think about this: if you're not much of a Tom Cruise fan, where else will you be able to see him die over and over and over again? Surely that's going to be a tantalising prospect for a certain section of the cinemagoing public.

Once again, damn you Tom Cruise. I wish I knew how to quit you. To paraphrase a certain cinematic gangster: "Just when I thought I was out, you make films as good as Edge of Tomorrow and pull me back in".
Movie Score
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