Edge of Tomorrow would be “the first good summer blockbuster” if X-Men had come out a couple of weeks later. Finally, we have an incredibly thrilling, interesting, and funny blockbuster — one worth watching more than once, I think. Actually, you know what? Edge of Tomorrow is a better movie than the new X-Men, and that’s saying something. It’s based on a Japanese novel titled All You Need is Kill, and that’s all I’ll say about that, as I haven’t read it. The film has intrigued me, though. I just might give it a read.
Taking place in the near future, Earth is at war with an alien race known as “Mimics.” Their tactics seem similar to ours, and since humans are such a self-centered species, we decided they were copying us. I kid (kind of). After several losses, we created combat jackets to even the odds. After one big war success, in which a soldier named Rita (Emily Blunt) killed hundreds of mimics, we basically declared victory, even though our success on the battlefield was nowhere near guaranteed.
Our lead is Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), who unexpectedly gets ordered to the front lines by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson, in a glorified cameo). Cage has no combat experience; he knows advertising and promotion. The group with whom he’s sent is preparing to storm the beaches of France. He tries to explain to Major Sergeant Bartolome (Bill Paxton) that he is really a high-ranking official, but he’s been labeled a deserter and nobody likes deserters. He gets no training, and is almost assuredly going to die. He can’t even get the safety off his combat jacket.
After being dropped onto the beach, watching most of his squad get killed, Cage kills a couple of Mimics before being killed himself. But, in the shock of all shocks, he wakes up on the morning of that day. Events play out like they did before. He dies on the battlefield again. He wakes up in the same spot again. It’s Groundhog Day all over again. In fact, the film does feel a lot like Groundhog Day, except there are aliens and Cage never has to try to kill himself — the mimics have no problems blasting his brains.
I’ll save you any more plot except to say that Cage is the one man who can save the world, because he has a power that nobody else has. He basically cannot die (for real), and since everything plays out exactly the same each time — save for what he alters — if he can remember how it will happen, he can keep getting better each time. It’s like a video game, except the only checkpoints are cinematic ones. Cage always has to restart at the beginning; we rarely have to watch the whole journey again.
You might think you know how the film is going to play out. Perhaps you actually do. But it has more than a couple of surprises along the way, and that provides it a little more food for thought than it might initially appear. It’s not just re-doing Groundhog Day; it has its own thoughts and ideas. This isn’t the most intelligent sci-fi movie out there, but it doesn’t pander to the hypothetical dumb “audience,” and will impress some people by not always taking the direction it initially appears it will. In addition, it provides its lead character with far more development than it really needed to. Cage is taken down a few pegs over the course of the film and learns things about himself and others while going through his Groundhog Day scenario.
That’s also completely ignoring how good the action in Edge of Tomorrow is. It’s really, really good. Teaming with cinematographer Dion Beebe, director Doug Liman shoots the action scenes clearly and proficiently. Even with how chaotic some of the shots get — and boy, do they ever — you never lose your sense of place, or where the primary characters are. Most of the big scenes also take place during the daylight, meaning the filmmakers can’t cheat by hiding weaknesses with darkness.
A lack of darkness is also something that you’ll notice when it comes to Edge of Tomorrow‘s tone. Even though the fate of the world and the human race is at stake, the film often takes a light approach to the situation, providing us with several strong laughs over its running time. The stakes never feel low, either, which is a very tough juggling act to pull off. It’s a likable and approachable movie, but there’s a constant feeling of tension and suspense, too.
If there’s one aspect at which Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t excel, it’s at its conclusion, which felt like a cheap cop-out. Obviously I can’t spoil it, but if you watch something that’s a lot of fun for 98% of its running time, only to have it cheapened by a weak ending, you’re going to be somewhat disappointed. Not enough to think that you just wasted your time, I don’t think, but enough to put a damper on an otherwise very enjoyable outing.
Edge of Tomorrow is a seriously fun sci-fi action film. It’s smart, it has a couple of good characters, its action is fantastic and well-shot, and it offers a couple of surprises that help make it feel fresh. No, it’s not just “Groundhog Day with aliens.” It’s more than that. It is its own thing. It is worth seeing, perhaps even a couple of times.