It’s always back to the present for Tom Cruise in a rather enjoyable futuristic action film
In The Edge of Tomorrow, mimics are taking over the world, and it’s up to one man to save mankind from certain destruction. “Mimics” are violent aliens that look like metallic tree roots, in other words, something organic we should all be scared of. We don’t know why they are taking over the planet, but we know humans stand little chance of defeating them.
Luckily, there is Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), who has never seen combat but seems to regularly do the full Ginsburg, appearing on most news channels to inspire the world and recruit new soldiers to fight for an alienless future. It is not his lucky day, however, as the commander in Europe, where the action takes place (and the film has no qualms clearly referencing World War II and specifically the Normandy landings) decides he has to be embedded with the soldiers, and he is sent to the front lines.
Directed by Doug Liman
With Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson
But there is another reference that will be made in the minds of almost every viewer who saw a film in the 1990s, and I expect an absolute majority of the reviews of The Edge of Tomorrow to cite that particular film, because in some respects it is very similar. That story, in which a man wakes up every morning to find himself back on the same day (Feb. 2) and in the same town (Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania), was told by Harold Ramis’ classic 1993 film, Groundhog Day.
It seems counterintuitive that Tom Cruise would be playing a role made famous by Bill Murray. The two actors — the one a dashing action-role actor, the other a droopy-eyed, stone-faced comedian — are not exactly alike, and neither are the two films, except for the inherent comedy of reliving the same day over and over again.
In the case of Major Cage, although he gets some basic training in warfare, he doesn’t expect to see much action on the field. But when he lands on the beaches of Normandy, it is like Saving Private Ryan with ferocious ETs running around. He dies almost immediately when he is attacked by a super alien that spills its blood onto him, and when he wakes up, it’s one day earlier, and he is about to he is about to (re-)start his training.
The person who may be able to help him is Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the warrior of the war who managed to push back the enemy at Verdun (here, the three screenwriters availed themselves of a World War I reference) and is widely known as the “Full Metal Bitch.” On the beach, she notices Cage because he always seems to know where the next attack is coming from, and she tells him, just before she dies, to find her when he wakes up. He does, and although they meet each other for the first time every day, the feelings between them grow strong, as they always do in the movies. It doesn’t quite fit the logic of the world of the film, but that is where the viewer’s mind starts to compensate for the gaps.
Of course, director Doug Liman couldn’t very well have told his story by putting it on repeat, so he employs the same technique as Ramis did with Groundhog Day, in that he shows us less and less of each day and focuses more and more on the story told by details that occur slightly differently every time. This approach leads to some very comical moments that we almost wouldn’t expect from a big-budget action film such as this one (the budget was around $180 million, compared with the inflation-adjusted $24.7 million of Groundhog Day), and the choice to edit the film in a way that accentuates these moments of comedy was bold and very valuable for audience who may not much care for all the smoke and monsters.
Although written by The Usual Suspects scribe Christopher McQuarrie, who proved his mettle with Bryan Singer’s intelligent 1995 crime film, the screenplay here often lurches all over the place. And while it may be clever to reveal to us that Cage and Vrataski have actually already been to a certain place before, sometimes on multiple occasions, and Cruise and Blunt are engaging in their roles, we never really get a look inside their heads because there is too much going on around them, and when things get tough, they can always just restart by Cage falling on his gun.
The Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t have a spectacular ending (some viewers may cringe at the clumsiness of the attempt at uncertainty), and even the climax in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, recently turned into a swampland, fails to adequately impress us. But although the theme of reliving one’s life isn’t exactly innovative, the idea remains powerful enough for us to wonder how we would have reacted in a similar situation.