A few months back, Tom Cruise starred in Oblivion, which was a collection of science fiction ideas arranged precariously in a single plot alongside beautiful production design. I liked it a lot but it seems to have left a lukewarm impression on most viewers. Undeterred, Tom now appears in Edge of Tomorrow, which is a collection of science fiction ideas arranged precariously in a single plot alongside beautiful production design. If this proves anything, it’s that Tom Cruise isn’t afraid of repeating himself in a bid to get things exactly right.
In a not-at-all contrived way, that brings me to the plot of Edge of Tomorrow. Our hero is a smug Army PR man who is forced by an unlikely bit of logic to join an assault on the Normandy beaches to fight off alien tentacled hordes. (The movie was released on D-Day in the UK, and surely I can’t be alone in wondering if this oddball tribute might be viewed as a bit tasteless by the few remaining veterans of that day?) Regardless, this is Hollywood, so Tom concentrates vainly on trying to weasel out, before being given one day to train. This wouldn’t be too bad if he was getting used to a firing a gun, but the weapon of choice is a full-body armoured suit with rocket launchers and lots of heavy bits attached. To add to his pain, Bill Paxton plays the sergeant responsible for knocking him into shape. Now this is a really smart bit of casting, not only echoing Paxton’s legendary scenes in Aliens, but also undercutting the military jargon and gung-ho attitude taken as de-facto these days. Paxton seems to be having a bit of a career renaissance and this part plays to his strengths perfectly, going from bull-headed wisecracks to complete puzzlement and adding some much-needed humour to the movie.
After training, Cruise is pitched into a Saving Private Ryan type calamity alongside a bunch of stereotypes of assorted nationalities, and is summarily killed, before waking up in a Groundhog Day situation, repeating the same disaster over and over again until he learns from his experiences, drops the smooth veneer and figures out a way to kills the Boss Alien.
You’ll have noticed two things: first, that Tom is playing a smug jerk (and does it really well), thus preempting the often-heard criticism from people who can’t tell reality from fiction. Second, the movie is choosing its influences from a wider range of genres than Oblivion, giving it a chance to appeal to more mainstream audiences. The movie’s also clever enouugh to style itself as a video game, and this gives a warm glow to anyone under 55 who is used to returning to the last saved game with monotonous regularity.
The whole first half of the movie is as entertaining as anything you’ll see this year, keeping the plot flying along and sanitising the slightly morbid central idea with clever dialogue and black humour. Emily Blunt also appears as a battlefield heroine and the only person who believes Tom mainly because she’s had the same experience. I’ve never really like her before but she’s terrific here, which is just as well as the whole love story aspect could have killed the movie off. And I was dreading being stuck in an other time loop with an acrtress as wooden as Andie MacDowell.
The only mis-step the movie takes is trying to give Cruise an ultimate aim, and dressing it up in some gibberish about Alpha aliens and Omega aliens. The exposition just leads to a lot of head-scratching and nice visual effects before you get the ending you might have been expecting anyway. Especially if you notice Doug Liman is directing, as the end titles are a clone of his Bourne Identity ones.
postit Liman’s other previous excursions into action movies have left me cold (especially Mr. and Mrs . Smith and Jumper), but here he has the sense to keep it moving along before anyone has time to say ‘wait a minute…’. Christopher McQuarrie turns out his best script since The Usual Suspects.
Apart from the slightly formulaic last 20 minutes, and the twisted London geography, my only other complaint is that there really should be more gore in a movie with this much death. I don’t think it was omitted to keep the whole thing light and breezy, so presumably the commercially necessary 12A certificate is the foreseeable future of big-budget action movies.