Edge of Tomorrow Review
Lock and Re-Load
Cruise knocks it out of the park with yet another welcome pre-Summer sci-fi blockbuster, taking a great Groundhog Day / Source Code premise and injecting into it a hefty amount of D-Day / Matrix Revolutions end-of-the-world all-out-war mayhem.Summed up effortlessly in the Live-Die-Repeat tagline, the future-set plot sees Cruise's never-seen-action Major thrown into the thick of things on the Normandy shores during a pivotal day of battle with alien invaders who have decimated most of Europe. Slaughtered almost instantly, he finds himself waking up at the start of the same day, forced to repeat the same events until he dies, resets and starts again. After trying out various permutations to survive the assault he eventually finds hope in the military's greatest warrior; a woman who not only appears to know exactly what has happened to him, but also appears to know how they might use it to turn the war around.
Based loosely on the Japanese sci-fi novel All You Need is Kill (a far superior title), Cruise's vehicle takes the concept and runs with it, adapting it superbly to suit the actor's age, and shifting the tone to deliver more than just pure, relentless battle action.Rather than merely drop you straight into brutal Platoon territory - which, admittedly, it very nearly does - the story smoothly segues into a lighter, more Groundhog Day-esque realm, maintaining an overbearing sense of urgency but also taking a more fun, entertaining path as it rollercoasters along. It's this keen balance of sharp wit and escalating tension that ensures that Edge offers up across-the-board satisfaction, never allowing the humour to smother the proceedings and detract from the end-of-the-world backdrop, but also not taking itself so seriously that the Kill-Die-Repeat process becomes exhausting.
With seamless, outstanding CG aliens and kick-ass action courtesy of some seriously awesome exo-skeletons; a relatively unusual London / Normandy-based setting; a frenetic but fun story that juggles comedy and consequence; and some committed lead performances, Edge strikes out as one of the best films of the year so far.
Indeed, it appears that Bourne Identity director Doug Liman knows precisely what response he wants to elicit from us, whether its welcome laughter during the moments where Cruise's initially hapless Major has to trial-by-error his way through situations (getting repeatedly run over, for example), or a rush of adrenaline during the well-staged action sequences that see the soldiers suit up and go toe-to-toe with the expertly-crafted alien nasties. Largely avoiding the kind of frustrating shaky-cam stylisation that his Bourne successor Paul Greengrass is more famous for, Liman captures some superior action; scenes which even stand up to the less forgiving 3D format (although we'd recommend 2D as the preferred viewing experience for Edge). But it's the Mr & Mrs Smith-style humour which is a welcome surprise to Edge, handled far more adeptly than in that film, but offering the same lightness of tone to keep you thoroughly engaged but not utterly exhausted.
The welcome lighter tone makes it one of those rare PG-13 actioners that you don't actually feel necessitated a more gritty approach.
They also know just when to hit you with the next story development so as to keep the momentum going. It would have been so easy for the repetition-based premise to exhaust us as much as it clearly does Cruise's protagonist, but, by changing the setting repeatedly, and keeping things fresh and frenetic, this is efficiently avoided. Sure, you still know that there's a plot MacGuffin at the centre of it all - the whole Live-Die-Repeat premise - but this one is used to stellar effect, making the pay-off undoubtedly worth it.
Emily Blunt (Looper, The Adjustment Bureau) is both resolutely gorgeous and utterly convincing as the military's best weapon, a brazen warrior with personalised weaponry and body-armour; so famous that her image and nickname are plastered everywhere. Blunt plays the kind of expert killing machine that Cruise's character only wishes that he could be and it's a credit to Cruise that, despite this being his star vehicle, he's not the one playing the kick-ass hero, as is usually his place, and that he's instead prepared to walk in the shadow of Blunt's fierce heroine.
Indeed, beyond a couple of nice cameos - including a welcome contribution from Bill Paxton, ironically embracing the Aliens-esque role-reversal from having once played Cruise's role of cowardly-soldier-who-eventually-goes-out-in-a-blaze-of-glory, to now gleefully chewing the scenery as the Apone-styled grizzled vet tasked with motivating the grunts - the biggest surprise is probably Cruise himself.
It's refreshing to see Cruise play against type, and it's a shame that he doesn't get the chance to do so more often.
Utterly committed to the role of an in-name-only Major, Cruise successfully jettisons his baggage as an action hero icon, before embarking on a surprisingly convincing journey as basically an inexperienced grunt who has to learn, the hard way, that all you need is kill. He also embraces the lighter tone - happy to be the butt of the joke more often than not - and his mishaps certainly provide the biggest laugh-out-loud moments. Perhaps the nicest touch, however, was in relation to the maturity with which they handle the potential romance angle. They could have easily just done a Groundhog Day in this regard, and they even pay tribute to it, but instead wisely pull back and land a one-two punch of heartfelt drama instead; ushering in a more somber, plausible tone which, in turn, leads to one of the film's best twists.
Then, of course, there's the whole video-game element. Comparing a film to a video-game almost always carries with it negative connotations, but not so here. Normally we either get poor adaptations of games, poor renditions of the gaming experience, or poor action sequences where the CG makes it look too much like a game - any of which can be used as criticism. But Edge, whilst not adapted from a video game, delivers an authentic gaming experience without ever detracting from the story and script.
You may well get to the end of the movie without having even noticed just how similar it is to getting through a really tough level on a game.
There's the seemingly interminable struggle of playing the same hard level again and again; gaining skills, weapons and power-ups along the way; facing different types of opponents and end-of-level baddies; tooling-up and kicking ass in an exo-skeleton or just taking to the mounted guns on the back of a helicarrier; and making it a little bit further with each repeated play, despite the fact that a surprise around the corner could land you right back at the beginning. Obviously intended to be a part of the piece, this video-game association is deeply and carefully embedded behind the scenes; so well that you may not even notice it.
With a little hindsight - and maybe a second viewing as there's plenty of re-watch value - you'll hopefully come to realise that Edge of Tomorrow is not only one of the best sci-fi actioners, original event movies, and most immersive features of the year, but also one of the most authentic gaming experiences ever to hit the Big Screen.
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