It's a rare breed indeed: A Summer blockbuster that has equal parts heart, humor, action and intelligence. And while Edge of Tomorrow (opening today) isn't airtight in its logic, it may be the most enjoyable movie-going experience so far this Summer. It's definitely a thrill-ride worthy of repeat viewings, ironically enough.
It's ironic because its plot deals with repeating the same day, over and over. It's somewhat of a cross between Groundhog's Day and Starship Troopers, or Groundhog's Day and really any sci-fi movie that features aliens hell-bent on taking over our planet. And OK, it is a bit of a stretch to say that it contains "equal parts" heart, humor, action and intelligence. This is definitely a film that leans most heavily on its incredible, action-packed, CG sequences. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that there is enough heart, humor and intelligence sprinkled throughout to make it feel satisfying.
In the near future, a gruesome alien race has invaded most of Europe. These cheaters are pretty much unstoppable, because they actually have the ability to jump back in time if things don't go as planned. Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage (get it? He's trapped? Oh nevermind.), an officer who has thus far acted as the face of the war against the aliens on network TV. He's a charismatic, slick-talking man that people listen to, with an innate ability to flash a smile in order to get his way. I know, a stretch for Tom Cruise. But when Cage is ordered to serve on the front lines of a major upcoming offensive against the aliens, he attempts to blackmail his commanding officer, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson). The next thing he knows, Cage wakes up inside a military camp, being called a "maggot" by an unruly drill sargeant and sent into the barracks to prepare for the upcoming mission by a stern Sargeant (Bill Paxton).
Dropped into battle, it's a complete slaughter, as if the aliens knew they were coming. By pure randomness, Cage takes down one particular alien that appears a bit different from the others. In doing so, the alien's blood disintegrates Cage, killing him. That is, until he instantly wakes up at the military base to the sound of being called a "maggot" once again. It appears Cage is trapped in some sort of time loop, where every time he dies, he just starts over from this particular "save point." He is forced to re-live - and die - this same day over and over again, ad nauseam.
Things become a bit more interesting when Cage comes across a female soldier Rita (Emily Blunt) on the battlefield one day. She looks at him funny and then tells him, "find me when you wake up." Whoa! It seems that she is aware of what Cage is going through. The next time he dies and wakes up, he seeks out Rita and the two devise a plan that they hope will lead to the demise of the alien attackers.
The comparisons between Edge of Tomorrow and the video-gaming experience are inevitable. Anybody who calls themselves even a casual gamer will be able to identify with the conceit, of trying over and over again to beat the next level. You may fall down that first pit the first time you try, but after several failed attempts, you jump over it. You learn the pattern of the enemy and the computer. You inch ever-so closer to the end of the level before you become its master.
Edge of Tomorrow comes closer to emulating this experience more than any other film to date. But with this premise, redundancy is unavoidable. Director Doug Liman does a good job of keeping things moving, but there are times when the movie lags or just feels hopelessly trapped in the same loop that its characters find themselves in. It also falls victim to predictability: Pretty much any movie that begins with an alien attack of Earth is probably not going to end with the annihilation of the human race. Was that a spoiler? Come on, you know better.
The enjoyment comes from the intentionally humorous "lives" lost by Cage that are interspersed between the attempts that actually propel the story forward. That, and Liman's direction of the action and the visuals are quite stellar.
But don't try to think too deeply about the film's own rules. Time travel is a tricky thing and when done poorly, it can ruin any film. Here, it is passable - just barely - to keep our belief suspended just enough to overlook the possible problems. There are also scenes of heavy exposition that are necessary, but ultimately hokey, if you really think about it.
But just like a good video game, you play it over and over - willing to die and begin anew - because it is an enjoyable experience. Driven by Tom Cruise's star power matched with Emily Blunt's likability, directed with gusto by Doug Liman and containing enough boom-pow excitement to satiate the masses, Edge of Tomorrow is the blueprint of what a Summer blockbuster should be.
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way
Based on the novel "All You Need Is Kill" by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Written by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Jack Reacher), Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Directed by Doug Liman (Fair Game, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity, Go, Swingers)
Opens locally on Friday, June 6, 2014 (check for show times).
Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 10:30 p.m. EST every Sunday, on MYTV20 in Detroit.
How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time