In a time when franchises front-lined by mop-headed vampires and CGI-superheroes rule supreme, there’s something about a big budget high concept action movie that isn’t a sequel, prequel, remake, re-imaging or brand deposit that demands respect. That this fresh and exciting action movie is anchored by a good old-fashioned movie star, one who, by all accounts, is well past his prime, is even more invigorating.
Tom Cruise. Say and think what you will about the man’s life off-screen but when it comes to consistently delivering top-notch, A-grade entertainment, there simply is no other. It’s been over three decades since he flashed that ridiculous cocksure grin for the first time in Risky Business. Although the creases have begun to show, there’s no indication that this guy has any intention of slowing down. And why should he? Especially when he’s consistently makes movies as good as Doug Liman’s frenetic and funny science fiction actioner Edge of Tomorrow. It’s Gears of War meets Groundhog Day with a hint of Will-E-Coyote thrown in for good measure. It’s also Cruise’s best work in nearly a decade.
Cruise plays Lieutenant Colonel Bill Cage, a smooth-talking propaganda man who pisses off the wrong general and find finds himself demoted to the rank of private, thrown into a metallic suit of armor and shipped off to the front-lines of a war against a seemingly indestructible race of squid-like aliens known as Mimics. In an unexpected change of pace, Cruise’s Cage turns out to be… not a no-nonsense Tom Cruise-y hard-ass but a whining coward who meets his end in horrific fashion almost instantly. But then a funny thing happens after he dies. He wakes up perfectly intact at the beginning of the previous day, with the realization that he’s going to have to re-live the same battle over and over again until he figures out a way to win the war. Or go mad by living and dying again and again in a never-ending loop.
Liman, whose previous work includes stylish 21st century action staples like The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, shoots many of the action sequences with the grit and chaotic urgency of the Normandy invasions in Saving Private Ryan. Dion Beebe’s overcast visuals assist in giving the film a desolate, hopeless vision of the world. The action sequences may be the most thrilling bits of this thriller but Liman also knows when to slow things down and bring audiences up to speed. Edge of Tomorrow is at its best when it focuses on the suspenseful moments between the big set-pieces. But Liman’s biggest weapon is allowing screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and siblings Jez and John-Henry Butterworth the room to infuse the film with a Schadenfreude sense of humor. The decision gives the characters, and by extension, the film itself, a dark but winning personality.
Edge of Tomorrow, which is based on a manga called All You Need Is Kill, won’t convert those who remain steadfast in the “Tom Cruise is crazy” camp nor will it stake claim for a place among the giants of the genre. But it’s fun, enjoyable and a perfectly calibrated action movie that also functions as a top-notch star vehicle. This is what every star vehicle should aspire to be like.
Director: Doug Liman
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth
Principal Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Taylor
Editing: James Herbert
Cinematography: Dion Beebe
Music: Christophe Beck
Running time: 113 minutes
Companies: Warner Brothers
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material