Groundhogs of War
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
I like Tom Cruise. I barely hear a positive word about him when talking to people and it’s unfair. The guy’s a decent actor and always brings a certain passion to his roles. His recent output has been solid too, with Oblivion being a cracker of a sci-fi and one of my favourite films of last year. Plus, Emily Blunt. Anyway, just explaining why I was chomping at the bit to see Edge of Tomorrow.
“What I am about to tell you sounds crazy- but you have to listen to me. Your very lives depend on it. You see, this isn’t the first time. “
Edge of Tomorrow takes place in the near future. Humanity is at war with fast, deadly and tentacle-y aliens known as Mimics. Cruise plays Major William Cage, a military P.R. guy used to appear on various news outlets talking up the war and the allies’ need for new recruits. Cage is called in by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) and it soon transpires he’s being whisked away from comfy greenrooms and plonked straight on the front line. After trying to Blackadder his way out of danger, Cage unwisely tries to blackmail Brigham, ensuring his place with the grunts. Predictably, it all goes a bit D-Day landings and carnage ensues. However, during the hellish battle something happens which causes the day to reset, with only Cage aware of the change. He soon learns he’ll have to seek out badass and military posterwoman Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) aka “Full Metal Bitch” to try and make sense of his temporal troubles and possibly a way to finally end the war.
So yeah, it’s basically Groundhog Day with a dash of Aliens. This is in no way a bad thing though. It has its own identity and crucially, knows what made both those films work beyond the superficial. Edge of Tomorrow knows this and spends a lot of time focusing on the evolving relationships between Cage and everyone else. Cruise is on form here. Cage is a smarmy coward and having him thrown headfirst into a terrifying combat situation with fuck-all training is great. I haven’t seen Cruise play a vulnerable character for a long time and it’s fantastic to see here. Emily Blunt is predictably great, being one of the most reliably decent actors around. Rita isn’t the cliched female arse-kicker character usually trotted out in misguided attempts at avoiding cries of sexism. She’s legit. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her get more action roles after this. Perhaps they could remake Domino with her instead of Keira Knightley. Also Brendan Gleeson is awesome. Take that as read for any film I review with him in it. Despite the competition from the aforementioned people and the game Bill Paxton, this is definitely Cruise’s film and, in my opinion at least, he goddamn nails it.
Edge of Tomorrow may just be the best video game film ever. Unfortunately, there is no Edge of Tomorrow game (what the fuck stopped them? The premise is crying out for a tie-in) but it takes the same kind of mechanic and runs with it. It reminded me of the punishing trial-and-error Dark Souls, where you often find yourself getting brutally killed only to respawn humbled, slightly wiser and ready to try a new strategy that doesn’t involve being run through by a massive broadsword. Same thing here. We see Cage slowly learning events and enemy patterns and it’s genuinely fun stuff. Cage’s transformation from quaking piss puddle to genocide distributor is extremely well done, with some legitimately funny moments. The script actually seems to be quite subversive, probably thanks to Christopher McQuarrie who likes to tweak conventions and remix tropes, such as in the hugely underrated The Way of the Gun. William Cage, at least initially, is practically a send-up of the standard Cruise role. Plus, I consider this Doug Liman’s redemption for the fucking terrible Jumper. This is the smart director who kicked off the Bourne franchise. I’ve missed him.
So, the Groundhog Day thing. Like with last year’s Oblivion, I’ve heard several cries of unoriginality. OK, the basic gimmick’s similar but you can’t just rip-off the “time-repeating” schtick and hope it has the same impact. Director Doug Liman and McQuarrie know this and preserve exactly what made it work in Groundhog Day. They take full advantage of the premise. There is insane dramatic potential in having only one character aware of time looping, something which bypassed the “creative” team behind 50 First Dates. We see a one-sided relationship being built. The brunt of this falls on Cruise and he carries it admirable. I honestly think some non-Cruise fans may be won round. If not, you will get the pleasure of seeing Cruise die over and over again. Talk about your win-win situations. HAHA I BET I AM THE FIRST TO MAKE THAT JOKE.
“Come find me when you wake up!”
So yeah, Edge of Tomorrow. Good stuff. It’s a smart sci-fi with heart and humour with a surprisingly subversive turn from Tom Cruise. Highly recommended.