EDGE OF TOMORROW Movie Review: You’ll Want To Live It Again And Again

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt die over and over again as they battle aliens in the summer's most well-rounded blockbuster yet.

I know how Tom Cruise feels in Edge of Tomorrow. I’ve also memorized the movement of enemies, parsing out their behavior - “He goes to the wall three times and then on the fourth iteration he only goes to the middle of the room and throws a fireball” - and also committed irritated suicide when I blew the pattern, giving myself the chance to do it all over again.

Edge of Tomorrow is technically an adaptation of a novel (All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakaruzaka), but it’s also the first great video game movie. It isn’t that Edge of Tomorrow apes the aesthetics or look of a video game so much as it perfectly, completely captures the feeling of playing one. But it’s also more than that; Edge of Tomorrow is surprisingly funny, impressively smart and absolutely winning on every level.

Cruise plays a shallow ad exec who gets drafted when aliens invade Earth. Their beachhead is Europe, and they’ve been absolutely unstoppable because they seem to foresee every move made by Earth’s defenders - so much so that the military has taken to calling the aliens ‘mimics.’ Cruise’s William Cage doesn’t fight these baddies, though - he uses his shilling skills as a military propagandist and spokesman. That is until the day of the big counterattack, where he’s supposed to lead a film crew deep into battle to record the heroic moment when the tide turns for humanity. But Cage is a coward, and he tries to first talk and then run his way out of the situation. It’s no good, though; tased and rendered unconscious, Cage wakes up at a forward operating base, is outfitted with a mech fighting suit and dropped onto a French beach where he and every single soldier in his squad is killed.

And then he wakes up. He’s back at the forward operating base, and everything around him plays out as it did before, but no one will believe him that he’s seen all of this and that everyone will die. An so he’s strapped back in a mech suit and dropped again on that beach and once again he’s killed. But in a different way.

And then he wakes up.

At one point in his many respawns he meets Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski, a special forces soldier who won the only battle in the war where humans were victorious. It turns out that Rita once was caught in a time loop as well, and she becomes Cage’s mentor as they try to hone his skills enough to accomplish the one mission that can win the war.

Cruise is fantastic as Cage; he’s the kind of guy who probably goes on extreme sports adventures on the weekend but when real danger is ahead immediately wusses out. It’s a great arc for Cruise, who gets to go from Jerry Maguire to Pete Mitchell in a completely convincing way. Cruise shines like a supernova in the film, nailing the small comedic bits as well as the big action bits and the nicely understated emotional bits.

He’s the star. But he’s still outshone by Emily Blunt, who is an all-timer badass as Vrataski, the Angel of Verdun, the Full Metal Bitch (usage of that moniker will get you knocked out by her). She walks around with a helicopter blade for a sword, and she has the haunted demeanor of someone who has been through a meat grinder. Blunt plays Vrataski as a woman who has figured out how to lock the door to the parts of herself that feel, but who has left a spare key under the doormat.

Back when he was a young movie star Tom Cruise got the torch passed to him by Paul Newman in The Color of Money. A more traditional version of Edge of Tomorrow would have had the roles reversed, with cold-eyed veteran Cruise passing the torch, Newman-style, to Blunt, who would be the scared and confused time looper. But while we don’t get that traditional set-up, we also don’t get a traditional romance. Vrataski could be, with absolutely no structural changes to the story and with only minor dialogue changes, made into a male character. While there are hints of chemistry between the two, the script by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth treats them as fellow warriors, not potential lovers. It’s refreshing to see the relationship unfold with the woman in a guiding position without the male hero trying to woo her.

Edge of Tomorrow is also refreshingly funny. Some of the humor is dark, as Cage cycles through the day again and again, sometimes hilariously walking through situations and other times wearily letting people get smashed by aliens.  The time-looping is often played wryly, and eventually it allows director Doug Liman to make the whole thing into a meta-commentary on the action genre itself - it takes a million iterations for William Cage to execute the kind of moves that action heroes execute in all their movies. The time loop itself means that there’s no actual danger of harm for the heroes, which is simply the conceit of the second act of every single action movie ever made explicit.

When that mechanic breaks down in the third act - when Cage is finally placed in ‘real’ danger - Edge of Tomorrow stumbles a bit, but the preceding ninety minutes worth of fun action, strong character work and witty writing allow the film to make it over the finish line. And while the ending may rub some the wrong way I found it a delight, a wonderful capper to two hours of thrilling scifi action.

That Edge of Tomorrow turned out to be so damn good is probably one of the biggest surprises of the summer; this is a film marketed as some kind of generic slog, and it’s anything but. It’s a film packed with personality, a movie that is totally spry and energetic. Edge of Tomorrow is everything you wish summer blockbusters were - strong, charismatic central performances anchoring excellent FX work in the service of a well-constructed and smart story. And that smart story is good scifi - you will walk out of Edge of Tomorrow eager to talk about the rules of time loops and the meanings of the loops, the nature of the mimics and the absolute coolness of the mech suits. It’s so damn good I’m sure it’ll bomb. Don’t make the mistake of discovering this movie on home video in six months - see it now, on a big screen.