LATEST TOM CRUISE VEHICLE MAKES GOOD ON OLD TROPE
Tom Cruise saves the world. That’s what he does.
The amount of lives he’s saved probably ranks him up there with Schindler and Jenner. He never gives up. He never fails.
And that really sucks all the jeopardy out of the apocalypse.
I first knew of Edge of Tomorrow by its birth name, All You Need is Kill – a stupid title for the latest unremarkable Cruiseathon. One name change later and a poster started to do the rounds: Cruise wearing a generic mech battle suit looking bloodied and pissed-off. I saw it, gave a shrug and went to see A Million Ways to Die in the West.
The trailer did little to soften my bias. Cruise was still Cruise, though Emily Blunt was an interesting choice. "Live, Die, Repeat" just made me wonder about what Harold Ramis's reaction would've been. I like to think he would've shit himself laughing.
And that was to be my last thought on Edge of Tomorrow. That is, until the turkey whose goose I thought was cooked (what?) started coming away with decent write-ups. A lot of decent write-ups – too many to write off (what?!) as fluke, so many my bias started to creak. And I'm quite glad it did.
This sci-fi re-imagining of Groundhog Day sees Major William Cage (Cruise), a talking head for the United Defense Force (UDF), railroaded into active service, despite having no combat training, the day before the big push to retake mainland Europe from an alien race called Mimics. Why "Mimics" you ask? Good question.
Demoted to Private and branded a deserter, Cage is embedded with 'J Squad' under the command of Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton... who I was surprised to see had made it to Master Sergeant after being eaten by Xenomorphs 28 years ago, but he's back with another rag-tag team of future warriors – "Stop your grinnin' and grab your linen!").
Come the morrow and Cage is strapped into a mech suit he can't work and armed with guns he can't fire. Not since Cocktail have we seen Cruise play such an inept character. He hits the beach in real Saving Private Ryan style and is soon put in a death-or-death situation – but not before taking out an "Alpha" Mimic, whose blood imbues Cage with the ability to "take back the day" upon his death. This ability, coupled with Cage’s fallibility, lets us see Cruise confront a concept he rarely tackles: defeat.
While we’re never given an exact number, it is assumed that Cage spends several decades repeating the same single day – this requires him to die. A lot. And given the parade of thrillers and sci-fi epics Cruise has cruised (why are you rolling your eyes?) through in his career, seeing him fail to this extent is a refreshing change of pace from the infallible, dependable protagonists we’ve seen him portray – Ethan Hunt scaling the Burj Khalifa, while sweat-making, doesn't place me in any doubt about the outcome; Cage doesn't offer the same reassurance.
Helping Cage negotiate this gauntlet of cosmic trial and error is Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a war hero and poster child who once possessed the same ability as Cage. After meeting on the battlefield, Vrataski agrees to train Cage, believing this ability to be the key to ending the war. As her first foray into the action genre, Blunt's physicality and presence convinced me from the outset, striking a good balance between stern focus and wry humour while also maintaining her femininity in the wake of all the chaos, placing her in similar territory to Carrie-Anne Moss's Trinity.
What follows is a reel of repeated scenes, signposting where in the day we are; each the same as the other, with the only changed detail being Cage. As these montages progress, we see Cage develop and learn from each of his deaths, but we never feel what Danny Rubin called "the Weight of Time". What was keenly felt in Phil Connors as he struggled in vain to understand what was happening to him and why, feels glossed over in Edge. This lack of burden makes the sorrow Cage experiences in the face of Vrataski's repeated deaths feel forced – we haven't been there with him, we've only seen the highlights.
It does, however, contain the same clever touches when depicting the time loop trope: finishing sentences, apparent omniscience and clairvoyance, repeating conversations. During an interview with Cruise on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart said the movie reminded him of video games; the trial and error, the evolving methods and tactics, the repetition. A scene in which Cage walks Vrataski through the Ministry of Defense, making specific turns and ducks to make it through, had strong connotations with stealth games of the Hitman/Splinter Cell variety for me.
This fidelity to the magic of the time loop is fully realized by the ending, as everything is reset back to where we find Cage at the start of the film, only now bearing witness to the end of the war. He soon finds Vrataski, alive and a stranger once more – though probably not for long. While this may seem like a cheap get-out, it also lives up to the same fairy tale standard of Groundhog Day, yet here it feels unearned. What was clearly Phil's cosmic reward for bettering himself feels more arbitrary and less destined in Edge.
However, it remains the case that Edge of Tomorrow is an interesting depiction of a familiar trope, giving Cruise the chance to become fallible again and Blunt the opportunity to flex some action muscle. Director Doug Liman brings tight and focused direction to a genre mash-up that could've been easily derailed in less experienced hands. And for all the Cruise-haters out there, his death-yelp is worth the price of admission.