Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

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Director: Doug Liman
Screenwriters: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth
Based on All You Need is Kill, a “light novel” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Jonas Armstrong, Charlotte Riley, Tony Way & Franz Drameh
Runtime: 113 min // Certificate: 12a

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUmSVcttXnI]

As the visual effects have become more impressive, as the budgets have continued to grow exponentially and as the characters have become increasingly gentrified and audience-friendly, science-fiction’s classic satirical bite seems to have been abandoned by the wayside. The stories, whose genius more often than not lay in their startling simplicity, have become garrulous and inconsequential, and at the same time needlessly bleak and humourless, while the camera has increasingly started to turn away from the characters in the direction of the next big explosion or headline-grabbing set-piece. Without wishing to sound like a Luddite, for all of the incredible technological advances that have helped such films to flourish over the last decade, it is the stories that have suffered most.

In this respect then, Edge of Tomorrow is one of the rarest beasts in modern blockbuster cinema. Not only does it manage to combine an intelligently-minded story with a pessimistic but often hilarious sense of humour, but it also contains a performance from Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible) that doesn’t make you want to scratch your eyeballs out with a spanner, which is no mean feat these days. Now, on their own these things aren’t all that spectacular, but put them together and then throw Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges) and Bill Paxton (Aliens) into the mix as well, and what you get is a sci-fi thriller that is, if nothing else, infectiously entertaining.

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Based on a “light novel” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow is set in a not too distant future in which an alien race, known colloquially as the “Mimics”, have invaded the Earth and conquered Western Europe in its entirety, with the exception of Britain. It is from there that a large scale assault on the invaders is to be launched, which is where we enter the proceedings. When Major William Cage (Cruise) finds himself unwittingly thrown onto the frontline, with no battle experience to his name, he is quickly killed by a Mimic, only to wake up the day before the battle ever takes place. The next day, after failing to convince his fellow soldiers of what has happened, he is killed in battle again, only to wake up in the same spot once more. This happens every day, with Cage clueless as to the cause of his predicament, until one day he manages to save the life of Rita Vrataski (Blunt; Looper), a Special Forces soldier who seems to know what’s happening to him.

With such a labyrinthine plot as its foundation, perhaps what’s most striking about Edge of Tomorrow is how simple the story actually is. The writers don’t allow themselves to get bogged down in the details, instead focussing on the effect such an existence has on Cage and, as the film develops, on his relationship with Vrataski, who meets Cage for the first time every day, whilst he has known her for what might well be “years”. As a result of this, the time-loop gimmick never feels tiresome or overstretched, because it never becomes the sole focus of the story. Indeed, Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) approaches the material in such a manner that by the time the film enters the home stretch the to-ing and fro-ing feels curiously mundane, though still clever and exquisitely executed.

For me however, what sets Edge of Tomorrow apart is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a film about a man who lives the same day over and over again, and both Liman and the writers recognise the innate humour in such an absurd situation and toy with it as much as they can. Sure, it’s no Groundhog Day, but amidst all of the chaos and the devastation the first hour or so plays out like a tragicomic farce, with lots of jokes made at the expense of Cage’s disastrous “comedy of errors” attempts to make it through one single day without being blown to smithereens. Cruise and Blunt, whose relationship forms the rock upon which the film’s more philosophical ideas about fate and destiny are built, both display a knack for black comedy in their characters’ establishing scenes, while more than managing to grasp the sheer scale of the drama as the film rumbles on. Though things settle down a bit in the final act – which is a bit of a disappointment compared with what comes before it – Edge of Tomorrow packs a playful, self-aware punch that elevates it above and beyond typical summer blockbuster fare.

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However, once the humour and the creativity have been put to one side, the film sort of just peters out into a bland, grainy, uninspiring conclusion that lacks all of the heart and soul that makes the first 90 minutes so enjoyable. There’s something of an inevitability to the final act, which abandons much of the earlier gimmickry, comedy and good fun, instead descending into a simple – albeit well-choreographed and often thrilling – action set-piece finale. The final few minutes, similarly, offer no real closure and feel both incomplete and rushed, which is a real shame because the film flirts with real greatness on more than one occasion in the first two acts.

Nevertheless, as far as summer blockbusters go, Edge of Tomorrow is a real triumph. Liman’s assured direction in combination with a witty screenplay and some stunning cinematography from Dion Beebe (Collateral), ensure that the film remains consistently engaging. Cruise and Blunt make for a great double-act, while the supporting cast put meat on the film’s bones and give us a real opportunity to immerse ourselves properly in the drama. I don’t think the film poses any grand questions about life and death, but it toys with some interesting ideas without collapsing into unnecessary obfuscation, and it is a whole lot of fun to boot.

If you can put aside any misgivings you might have about Tom Cruise driving yet another sci-fi disaster movie into a brick wall, Edge of Tomorrow is well worth a watch. In fact, I almost wish I could die and restart my day so I could watch it all over again!

★★★½

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