Sometimes, no matter how good a film trailer looks, or if it’s definitely your cup of tea, you go into the cinema not expecting much. Rise of the Planet of the Apes? After the Tim Burton remake, I didn’t get my hopes up. The Amazing Spider-Man? Expected to see the same scenes from the Sam Raimi films played out all over again, only not as good. The Evil Dead remake? The same film for fans of torture porn. Usually with films your gut instincts turn out to be right, but sometimes you’ll be surprised (I was surprised by how good all three films I mentioned were). After last year’s Tom Cruise sci-fi Oblivion, I wasn’t expecting much from Edge of Tomorrow. Despite being directed by The Bourne Identity’s Doug Liman, starring the always impressive Emily Blunt, and having a trailer that ticked all the boxes, I sat down at the cinema expecting to struggle through Edge of Tomorrow’s two hours. Instead I was massively surprised to realise early on that I’m enjoying this film; I’m enjoying it a hell of a lot!
Edge of Tomorrow sounds like the safest bet a Hollywood studio could make for a big budget film: aliens, huge set pieces, things blowing up, all happening in this Groundhog Day-style narrative and starring one of the most famous actors on the planet. What makes Edge of Tomorrow stand out is that, while it’s hard not to spot its many influences (The Matrix, Starship Troopers, and just about every war movie ever made), Liman and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, have come up with plenty of their own ideas.
In recent years its felt like all Tom Cruise has had to do is run round and shoot people. Here, Cruise gets much more to do. Edge of Tomorrow’s protagonist isn’t a family man or a secret agent, he’s a media consultant; a man who has never fought in a warzone (he joined the US military after his advertising firm collapsed) and whose job it is to glorify war so that more men and women join the army. William Cage is an arrogant, permanently grinning coward. In a brilliantly subtle scene alongside Brendan Gleeson, Cage sinks to new lows as he tries to save his own skin, talking his way out of being sent to the frontline. It’s not until Cage sees the full horrors of war first-hand, and is forced to get shot, blown up and torn to shreds, that he begins to change. Cruise also gets to remind us how good he is at comedy, Edge of Tomorrow doing a lot with the central idea that Cage has to keep dying over and over; Cruise delivering several blackly comic high-pitched screams.
Emily Blunt gives another hard to fault performance. Instead of being the love interest you normally see in summer blockbusters, Blunt is Cruise’s Master Yoda mentor. Always convincing as Rita Vrataski, the human resistance’s poster girl, she is tough, gutsy and driven. It’s not spoiling anything by saying that you get to see the softer side of Vrataski and, while you could argue this is predictable, at least her change is gradual and understated instead of being heavy-handed.
Christopher McQuarrie and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth deserve praise for ensuring the film’s Groundhog Day with aliens premise never feels tired. Scenes we watch for the first time have been re-lived by Cage over-and-over: Cage getting into a fight with his fellow squad members and effortlessly dodging every one of their punches, or meeting Brendan Gleeson for a second time and listing off everything he is about to do. You also have the flip side to this; about to fly a helicopter, Vrataski realises that Cage has lived through this moment before. Tearfully, she asks him how many times he has watched her die, Cage struggling to answer.
The only complaint you could throw at Edge of Tomorrow is that, by aiming for a 12A certificate, the film is not as complex or as unflinching as it should be. If Christopher Nolan had directed the film, you can bet there would be plenty of scenes examining what dying countless times would do to a man. How would you feel knowing that, if you die, you can start the day again and, when Cage inevitably gets his mortality back, how does this change your outlook on life? None of this is addressed in the film. If Paul Verhoeven had directed, you would have seen every time Cage was bumped off instead of cutting away. While I’m the first to argue that the imagination adds far more than any amount of splatter, seeing Cage die would have given the film more of a punch. This isn’t a video game Cage is playing; he is in his own purgatory, being killed off time and again.
Liman isn’t interested in making a violent, complex science fiction film; his plan all along was to make a fast-paced, entertaining blockbuster. Edge of Tomorrow isn’t Aliens or District 9, but it is funny, thrilling, with more than enough ideas to make it stand out from the sequels and rehashes that take over the cinemas from May to September. It’s also the best film to appear on Tom Cruise and Doug Liman’s CVs in a long time.
3 out of 5