If you like video games, you’ll likely love this movie, but even if you don’t, The Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt and directed by Doug Liman, has plenty to offer. It has a terrible title but it’s based a Japanese novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, so maybe something got lost in translation. I’m not sure and, really, it’s inconsequential to the quality of this film.
The premise is that a military officer, William Cage (Tom Cruise), a slick PR dog-and-pony- show kind of guy, is told he’s going to be with the tip of the spear for a massive beach assault that the Earth defense forces have planned in an attempt to defeat an alien invasion force. Cage is not happy. He gets people to join the army; he does not participate in combat. During the assault, which is similar in scope and importance to the D-Day invasion of WWII, Cage contracts some sort of blood-borne virus in the heat of battle and enters a time loop, reliving each day, and dying each day, until he gets further and further along, and closes in on the enemy. He is aided by special forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who is a Full Metal Bitch who has one goal in mind: destroy the enemy.
This is by far the best movie based on a video game that’s not based on an actual video game. The idea of starting over each time you are killed until you are proficient enough to move competently along in what appears at first to be a suicide mission; muscle memory, training, even memorizing the exact number of steps; when to duck, when to jump, all done through trial and error, until you are the master of a complicated choreography, and are able to accomplish the goal–these have been staples of video games from Donkey Kong to today’s more sophisticated RPG’s like Skyrim.
Tom Cruise gets a lot of eye-rolling for the choices he makes in his personal life, but as a performer in these kind of blockbusters, for my money no one is better. He received a fair bit of flak for being chosen to play Jack Reacher in the movie based on the character in the Lee Child novels. I love the Jack Reacher books and binge on them regularly. They are well researched, funny at times, and suspenseful, and Reacher is an old-timey kind of man who takes the bus and doesn’t give a shit what people think. Though physically Cruise doesn’t resemble Reacher, he was able to capture the intensity and integrity of the man, as well as his ferocious style of fighting, which is fast and brutal and often very ugly. And in The Edge of Tomorrow Cruise once again lends himself well to the trope of reluctant hero, which when done well is something I never get tired of watching or reading, and has the audience anticipating the moment when he will embrace his calling and immerse himself in full-on heroism, sacrificing life and limb to a cause bigger and better than himself.
Cage and Rita play off each other well. She is single minded in her purpose, all soldier, all the time, while Cage is a man reluctant, questioning, and scared. What I appreciate is that each rubs off on the other in small, subtle ways, so there are no blatant moments of awareness or enlightenment. The friendship that evolves is based on respect and understanding. One scene in which Cage prepares a cup of coffee, a rare commodity, for Rita is touching in how it gives us just a glimpse of how nurturing, and being nurtured, in a time of war can have meaning and impact beyond the act itself. Rita becomes the reluctant recipient, just as Cage becomes the reluctant hero.
The 3D technology was used to good, but not great, effect. I think Hollywood is still working out the kinks and we may still be a year or two away from complete competence. But this movie really shines in the money they spent on the beach assault scenes where the equipment, smoke, bullets, and chaos are filmed in such a way that the viewer gets a perspective that is both macro and micro, which I can only assume is a difficult balance to attain. From panoramic shots of dozens of troop-carrying vehicles, some in the air while dozens more have landed, to a shot of hundreds of men and women running and dying, to the shot of a single soldier crushed by debris fallen from a craft–it’s not as good as Saving Private Ryan but it’s darn close.
This is the second film I’ve seen in the theatre this summer and both were good. If you have a chance to see this one in a theatre, I highly recommend it just for the appreciation of the scope and magnitude. It was refreshing to see a decent idea executed competently, with fairly good writing and acting. People can say what they like about Tom Cruise but he didn’t star in the movie Non-Stop, which Liam Neeson did, and that movie was so bad I’m pretty sure it gave me shingles (a post for another day). So don’t get shingles and go see Tom Cruise in The Edge of Tomorrow.