Ever watched Groundhog Day (1993) and thought to yourself, “Hmm, needs more aliens and weaponised exo-suits”? If so, boy, does Doug Liman have a movie for you! Based on the Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill by Sakurazaka Hiroshi, Edge of Tomorrow takes Harold Ramis’ time-loop conceit and combines it with the blockbuster aesthetic of first-person shooters like Halo and Fallout. The result isn’t creative so much as fantastically outlandish, but it’ll keep you on the edge of your seat right up to the final shot (we’ll get to that in a bit).
Tom Cruise stars in Edge of Tomorrow as Major Cage, a military advertiser who initially proves as cowardly as he is ingenious. The former trait (and an ill-advised attempt at blackmail) explains why General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) sends him to die in a reform infantry unit not unlike the Slaughterhouse from G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987). The latter one justifies how creatively he exploits his ability to turn back the clock whenever he dies, memorising patterns on the battlefield and accumulating data about everyone around him.
Some mumbo-jumbo sci-fi explanation is provided for Cage’s gift, one that, of course, relates to the alien invaders with which humanity is at war. Any further information would constitute a spoiler, I think. Suffice it to say that the mechanics play into the appeal of Edge of Tomorrow as the best video game adaptation not based on a video game. Take, for example, the way our hero relies on muscle memory to navigate through each set piece and slingshots back to the same save point after every failure.
There’s more to it, though. Edge of Tomorrow draws a lot of its charm from keeping us in the dark as to which iteration of any given scene we’re watching, be it the first or the ninety-seventh, revealing the answer only after the fact. This allows Cage to stay one step ahead of the audience, even as specific moments are repeated. That is, until he, all of a sudden, reaches uncharted territory to often hilariously catastrophic effect. Cruise does an impressive job providing an intimate through-line across all these tonal shifts and temporal back-and-forth. I was so engrossed in his character’s journey that I barely noticed the prerequisite “Tom Cruise sprints” sequence.
However, the true breakout performance belongs to Emily Blunt, who portrays Rita, a decorated soldier who once possessed our hero’s ability and now serves as his mentor. I love her forced familiarity with him. We know something’s off but can’t put our fingers on it until the woman blurts out, “I wish I’d known you better”, indicating that she’d been faking the whole time, knowing what it’s like to keep meeting a person for the first time. These subtle touches along with Blunt’s perfect balance of ferocity and vulnerability make Rita, not Cage, the emotional core of Edge of Tomorrow, which works out well, seeing as she carries all the stakes.
What with the unlimited continues, Edge of Tomorrow often has to bypass its own premise to generate tension. Liman achieves this by keeping the focus on Cage and Rita’s relationship so that, rather than simply defeat the baddies, our hero must figure out a scenario wherein his partner (and love interest) survives. Never one to settle for just one good idea, the director also establishes an easy way for Cage to lose his powers, which, of course, plays out at the climax in predictable but undeniably satisfying fashion.
This, I suppose, leads us to the final shot, which many have accused of lacking artistic conviction. Indeed, the studio-mandated seams start to show, but it’s worth noting that the deus ex machina here serves to set up the epilogue, not resolve the plot. More to the point, consider the focus of Edge of Tomorrow and the upbeat sleekness of its narrative. If anything, Liman demonstrates his creative fortitude by forgoing ponderous melodrama in favour of a tonally consistent thrill ride that will keep you hopeful about the future. Isn’t that what do-overs are all about?