In a twist few in his fanbase will see coming, Tom Cruise is NOT the hero of the new film Edge of Tomorrow. Sure, he’s the lead and given most of the expositional weight to carry, but his character starts off a coward and barely breaks out of such a meek mode throughout. He does finally settle on a path that eventually wins the day, but it’s not without the help, chutzpah, and hardship of Emily Blunt. She’s the true champion here, a propaganda pin-up with devastating battle skills known around the world as the “Full Metal Bitch.” Within his performance parameters, Cruise is the casualty. It’s Blunt who will guide our struggling star, even if it kills them both… over and over and over again.
That’s the narrative gimmick in this fast paced and fun film. Sometime in the future, aliens nicknamed “Mimics” will invade the Earth and take over most of Europe. In order to save the world, a D-Day like invasion of France is planned and the UN General in charge (Brendan Gleeson) wants Cruise’s military spokesman, Major William Cage (Cruise), to report from the front lines to raise morale. When he abjectly refuses — he’s scared — he is demoted to Private and sent to fight. While Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) sees nothing but a casualty in his midst, Cage hopes to avoid dying.
Well, he doesn’t — and then something strange happens. Cage wakes up, thinking he’s dreamed the whole episode. Then the day repeats itself, exactly as before, and he dies again. The same way. The same situation and setup. And this happens, repeatedly. Eventually, Cage makes contact with Rita Vrataski (Blunt), the most celebrated soldier in the ranks. She’s registered hundreds of kills and she also seems to understand what’s going on. Turns out Cage is linked to the aliens, allowing him to see a way to defeat them. Of course, in order to do that, he will have to find a way to stop from dying while trapped inside this extraterrestrial time loop.
Give director Doug Liman credit for finding a way to pull off this overtly intricate storyline without giving in to tricks or repetition. All throughout Edge of Tomorrow, we watch Cruise’s character wake up, serve his boot camp penance, and then die in various ways while on the battlefield, each time adding another piece of information to his growing list of survival steps… and it’s never dull. By the time he and Blunt begin their pursuit of the main alien adversary, we’ve watched them both systematically grow into thoughtful, effective soldiers. Even when unexpected circumstances mandate they make up a quick response, their growing instincts enthrall us. The entire movie, in fact, is exciting and energetic, offering lots of humor as well as the horrors (well, the PG-13 version of them anyway) of combat.
Cruise does indeed take a backseat despite being in almost every frame of the film. You can see him trying to hide when first introduced to the roughnecks he’ll be fighting alongside. It’s also evident in his initial confrontations with Paxton. But as he grows more confident, as Blunt’s training and his recurring days of experience starts to sink in, he starts moving to the fore. He never takes over, as he did in Oblivion, and is never the main catalyst, as in the Mission: Impossible films. Instead, this is an ensemble of two, Blunt bringing as much weight and gravitas to her part as Cruise avoids in his. Cage never fully becomes a leader. Instead, he simply understands what has to be done, if only to free himself from cyclical nature of his current existence.
Considering its high concept premise, Edge of Tomorrow still delivers one of the best blockbuster rides of summer 2014, and all it had to do was take Tom Cruise down a peg or two. He’s still one of the best action actors around. This time, by leaving the heroics to others, he proves his movie mantle all over again.
Aka Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow.