Who would have thought that watching a woman painfully dying over 100 times in 2 hours could be entertaining? Or that 4D, the money-sucking, off-the-mark, ridiculously inadequate, and distractive technology there is, might prove it does have a little sense to it? Somehow, all of the above happens during Edge of Tomorrow, the latest Tom Cruise actioner.
It’s the near future and Earth has been attacked by space invaders called Mimics, a highly organized formation of ultra-durable and intelligent aliens with creepy bodies. The ongoing crisis and subsequent military confrontations have left most of the world in rubble and the human population decimated. But who else, if not an accidental hero, might turn the catastrophic stream around? When Bill Cage (Cruise), an all-smiles army PR specialist, refuses to become the face of another wave of planned attack, his superior (Brendan Gleeson) punitively strips him of all his privileges and sends him to the front lines as a private with a false annotation of previous desertion. Bashed by his new master sergeant (played brilliantly, in Full Metal Jacket mode, by Bill Paxton), foreign to the drill, and weapon-illiterate, Cage gets killed in the first minutes of the catastrophic Normandy-like drop. But then he wakes up again – and again, and again – in the very same starting point, alive every time. He will discover that his newly acquired, untamed ability to reboot his life might be the answer to the crisis. Cage’s partner in the whole process is Rita (Emily Blunt), a super-warrioress and military hero, whose courage will soon reveal its dubious foundation, defying the mainstream, empowering discourse of the power-holders and decision makers.
At first glance, Cruise’s latest film seems like a big-budget approach to mix Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers, infused with some computer game rhetoric and a pinch of Saving Private Ryan. But Doug Liman’s execution of this theoretically freakishly incoherent mix is actually pretty flawless. It holds the plot together well, is skilfully pasted, preserves the ability to surprise while still delivering what’s expected, and knows the line between comforting familiarity and a rip-off. There’s also a nice, relaxed approach to the whole thing that makes this production quite funny and disarms the apocalyptic stiffness of the clash-of-the-worlds theme. Cruise, however eventually triumphant, displays a good deal of self-irony, playing a character who starts off as a phony poser and has to learn his way through his own weakness, cowardice, and clumsiness. Both Cruise and Blunt are pros at animating their characters, who might have laid rather flat on the page but were turned into truly engaging, spirited characters via the lead performances.
The film’s production quality is very impressive, with flawless CGI execution (specifically, arather interesting variation on the alien form!) and breathtaking action sequences, with cinematographer Dion Beebe masterfully using his expertise in light and color-matters. There are, of course, moments where the aesthetic choices are questionable. For example, when Rita is first introduced, we see her slowly raising, all sweaty after the workout , with lips half-open and a quiet exhale, making a sort of snake-ish, ridiculous move, resembling an early Beyonce video. The choreography, camera movement, and discreet slo-mo exudes a purposefully tacky aura, looking like a pornographic restaging of a Sly Stallone flick from the mid-1980s. Then again, it might be a wink at Cruise’s inner indisposable Top Gun-iness. The overall quality of the production means, frankly, it might be conscious or even intentional.
One has to admire Cruise, who resurfaces like a pro, sticking close to the top through thick and thin. Even after the biggest career mishaps that would deluge anyone else, he’s still bringing millions of dollars to the producers backing his projects. Actually, besides the obligatory romantic subplot (hey, Tom Cruise can get all the ladies he wants! Why? Because he’s Tom Cruise!) that seems too conventional for this level of innovation, the quite anti-military and anti-systemic Edge of Tomorrow is a rather painless experience – for the viewer, not for the constantly executed characters, that’s for sure. Maybe it’s even a breath of fresh air in the field of contemporary, mass-produced unoriginal sci-fi blockbusters. It’s a spectacular and witty movie based around a revolutionary idea for its own genre: more than painful, death can actually be pretty boring sometimes.