Mark Reviews Movies

Edge of Tomorrow


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Doug Liman

Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Taylor, Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way, Kick Gurry, Franz Drameh, Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley, Masayoshi Haneda

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material)

Running Time: 1:53

Release Date: 6/6/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 5, 2014

Let's get this out of the way right away: The central conceit of Edge of Tomorrow is utterly ridiculous. That it concerns time travel—a personal bugbear that causes more logical headaches than it can be worth—is part of it, but when the characters stand around talking about the specifics of the premise, it becomes nearly incomprehensible. There's an alien invasion of Earth, and the aliens have a biological defense mechanism that allows for time travel. If one of them dies, its consciousness (which, by the way, it shares with the rest of its species) returns to the day before its death.

Here's a question: If such is the case, wouldn't time essentially stop when the first creature to develop this evolutionary tic dies? It would just continue to live out its last day over and over again, and the rest of the universe would be trapped, unknowing, along with it. Maybe the power wears out over time, meaning that it's only the creatures that die of unnatural causes—such as during the course of an interplanetary invasion—that trigger the reset of the clock. Even then, the early onset of a terminal disease in one of these things could wreak looping havoc on the universe.

Does any of this matter in the context of the film itself? It does not, although these queries do serve as an example of things that might haunt a movie of lesser effect. Edge of Tomorrow plows through any questions we might have about its premise with an almost unstoppable sense of narrative propulsion and a particularly nasty comic hook.

It is the near future, and the aliens, dubbed "Mimics," have overrun most of Europe with the major exception of the United Kingdom. After a decisive victory on the part of humanity in Germany, the United Defense Force has decided to execute a major operation to retake the continent starting on a beach in France.

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a public relations officer for the U.S. Army who joined only because his advertising firm failed. His work hyping the recent victory has gotten him noticed, enough so that General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) from the UDF wants him reporting on the front lines during the upcoming assault. Cage refuses, attempts to blackmail Brigham, and finds himself in handcuffs at a forward operating base, where he has been demoted to participate in the attack as a grunt. There, his verbose master sergeant (an amusingly hammy Bill Paxton) says, Cage will be find redemption in the "fiery baptism" of "glorious combat."

Instead, after an intense sequence pitting humans in robotic suits with machine-gun fists and retractable rocket launchers against the Mimics, Cage is killed almost immediately after figuring out how to turn the safety off his suit's weapons. It's also a sequence of bleak humor with sudden slaughter (One soldier stands triumphantly on the beach, having escaped one crashing ship, only to be crushed under another) and Cage's dumb luck in the face of complete incompetence (He spends most of the battle trying to figure out the language settings on his suit). When that luck runs out, it's in a bath of acidic alien blood.

That's when Cage, somehow infected with the aliens' time-traveling ability, awakens back on the base on the eve of the incursion, finding himself in a metaphysical prison of déjà vu—destined to die in the same terrible battle over and over again. The film's tone of dark humor doesn't change at this point, but the stakes do.

The battle, which begins as a desperate struggle for survival, suddenly becomes a game of ironically low-stakes trial and error. Cage tries to correct certain small incidents in the battle (such as saving the poor guy who is squashed by the ship), only to find himself making a completely different error (Pushing the soldier out of the way puts him in the ship's path). Director Doug Liman and editor James Herbert make the most of the joke with editorial shorthand. We eventually only see the events we need to see, and when the chronology comes to a full stop (as does, cannily, the heroic strains of Christophe Beck's score), the film picks up moments before Cage's mistake (usually emphasized with a death squeal from Cruise that never stops being funny).

The plot kicks into gear when Cage meets Rita (Emily Blunt), the hero of the battle in Germany, who at one point also suffered from Cage's condition (She says doesn't anymore, which—yes, paradox-seekers—is impossible for her to know for sure). She and Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), who has been studying the Mimics, explain the silly specifics and figure that Cage can keep trying and failing until he and Rita can find and destroy the Mimics' central brain. Rita, the impatient sort, is more than willing to give Cage hard reset—read: a bullet to the head—when things don't go according to plan.

There's a turning point—a montage of Cage seeing Rita die over and over again—where the film becomes more serious about itself and, as a result, slightly less involving. Part of it is that narrative shorthand employed by Liman and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth (adapting Hiroshi Sakurazaka's novel All You Need Is Kill—a title as preposterous as the premise). It works wonders for the film's comic goals but comes up short in presenting Cage's conundrum in any weightier way. After decidedly lowering the stakes to the absurd, it's a bit unfair to expect us to accept them raised again.

Even with the out-of-character third act (and an ending that tries even film's shaky logic), Edge of Tomorrow remains a thrilling experience filled with engaging setpieces. More importantly, it has an unexpected sense of humor that nimbly undercuts its spectacle and its silliness.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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