I think I can basically understand why people seem so set on either hating or dismissing the new sci-fi epic Edge of Tomorrow. For one, it stars Tom Cruise, and for some audiences, putting Tom Cruise in your movie is the equivalent of replacing the entire score with the sound of slowly dying Harp Seals. For secondsies, the premise, that of a man trapped in an endless time loop where he was to continually relive the same day, has already been done. And unless Edge of Tomorrow has Bill Murray trying to seduce Andie MacDowell, it just isn’t gonna compare to the last one.
However, like many other critics on the net who gave the film a fair shake, I’m standing up here today to tell you that Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t just NOT suck, it may be one of the most entertaining sci-fi action films of the year. And I can see the disbelief in your eyes and your cursor slowly moving towards the back button, so here’s a video a video of a baby monkey riding a pig. I’ve given you that, you can keep that, just repay me by hearing me out.
Cruise plays Will Cage, a military press liaison officer who is sent to the front lines of an ongoing war with a race of aliens called the Mimic (sadly not the giant cockroaches from the Del Toro movie) who’ve been slowly advancing across Europe since landing on a meteor. After a chance encounter with one of the aliens, Cage dies and reawakens the previous morning, and finds himself returning to the same moment whenever he dies. His only chance at finding out what’s happening is Emily Blunt’s character Rita, a tough as nails soldier who experienced the same phenomenon. With only a day to do it, and a seemingly unlimited number of resets, Cage and Rita have to find the Mimic’s leader and end the war.
What makes Edge of Tomorrow work not just as a movie, but especially as a Tom Cruise movie, is how how much it defies your expectations of what we’ve all come to expect from him as a leading man. In almost every other Tom Cruise action movie, we’re introduced to Cruise as some kind of mashup of James Bond, John McClane and Jesus Christ. He’s already the most capable, confident, and ludicrously overqualified human who’s ever walked the Earth, and the film isn’t so much a series of obstacles as a series of opportunities to look awesome. Edge of Tomorrow goes in the exact opposite direction. When we first meet Cruise, he’s a complete coward with no combat experience whatsoever whose only real skill is looking good on camera. By the end, of course, he’s the same Tom Cruise kung-fu action Jesus we’ve all come to expect, but what’s interesting is how we get from one to the other. Edge of Tomorrow uses the time travel mechanic to show Tom Cruise getting good at things the way normal people do: by failing repeatedly. No joke, the entire first 45 minutes or so of this film is mostly Tom Cruise trying and failing to BE TOM CRUISE. It’s only through repetition, failure and practice that we actually see him EARN his position as an uber-competent alpha male action hero.
For an action movie in general, never mind a Tom Cruise movie, this is incredibly refreshing. Cruise spends the first half at least of the movie being repeatedly and violently humbled, often for trying the kinds of stunts that he would probably nail with a smile in any other film, simply because he’s Tom Cruise and that’s what we expect of him. Because of this, this may be the most (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) interesting and relatable Cruise has ever been in an action movie. When he finally starts to get the hang of things and spends the tail of the film pulling off death-defying stunts with perfect ease, we know he’s only doing it that well because he had to fail trying about a dozen or more times. And oftentimes we got to see him in the previous attempts. If someone else had been playing Cage, someone we expect in an underdog role, Edge of Tomorrow wouldn’t have had that subversion of expectations going for it, and probably wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining.
But even without that, Edge of Tomorrow would still manage to be fun and interesting and well-assembled. Emily Blunt’s character is probably one of the more notable female action movie protagonists in recent memory, if only because she completely outclasses the male hero for most of the movie even with his time rewinding powers. And while she may not exactly be Ellen Ripley, she’s allowed to show more glimpses of genuine emotion and humanity than most of the robotic “what is this thing you call love” female protagonists that populate movie screens.
The only bad thing I can honestly say about the movie is that visually it’s about as brown and uninteresting looking as a coffee yogurt that’s been left out of the fridge. Despite the promise of mechsuits fighting CGI horrors from beyond the veil of space, most of the battle scenes are just guys with spare parts nailed to their clothes firing wildly at CGI blobs they probably haven’t even seen concept art of. Thank Sakaguchi that Emily Blunt had the good sense to bring a buster sword to the fight so it doesn’t feel too much like another goddamn Starship Troopers sequel.
Edge of Tomorrow may just be the surprise upset of the year, a genuinely enjoyable, fun sci-fi action flick that in defiance of all common sense is actually made better and more interesting for the presence of Tom Cruise. People probably think this kind of thing was a myth or a legend, but here it is. This is like finding Atlantis or something, but the interesting Atlantis with Mark Addey and Pythagoras, and not the boring one full of Canadian B-Actors and Jason Mamoa.