Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson
In all my years of playing video games, I have died many ignoble deaths. I’ve been killed by the first goomba in World 1-1 on the original Super Mario Bros. I have effortlessly chained together some awesome sword-swinging attacks in Soul Calibur only to fall off the edge of the arena. I’ve jumped out of a warthog (all-terrain vehicle) in Halo when someone else has been driving, only to get accidentally run over by my ally moments later.
In films, we rarely get to see this type of trial and error from the hero. Luke Skywalker nails the trench run in Star Wars on the first go. Ripley survives the xenomorph attack on the Nostromo in Alien. John McClane faces seemingly insurmountable odds in the Nakatomi Plaza but he takes out every terrorist single handedly and lives to see another day.
Doug Liman’s new sci-fi film Edge of Tomorrow changes all that. Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage, a cowardly show-boating PR man who represents the U.S Military in their desperate struggle to battle an alien invasion from the mysterious Mimics. The war is going badly but Cage, who has no military background, has a job to sell optimism to the press. That is until he gets roped in by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to battle the Mimic for real. He is handcuffed, knocked out and forcefully enlisted to engage the enemy in an invasion on the north-west shores of France. The Mimic appear completely prepared for the ‘surprise attack’ and massacre the humans. William Cage is out of his depth and is killed within minutes.
And that’s when Edge of Tomorrow, a film inspired by Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill, really begins. Cage awakens from his death to a time 24 hours prior when the humans are still preparing for their ill fated invasion. It seems the Mimic have the ability to travel back in time and reset events (when they lose a war) and by killing one of the alpha Mimics, Cage has inherited the ability to cheat death. He can die, learn from his mistakes, and try again. Indefinitely.
It’s an interesting concept on paper but I was especially pleased with how far the concept is taken in Edge of Tomorrow. Cage tries to memorize the enemy placement on the battlefield and win the war by rote. It proves futile. One time, he’ll try and save a fat squad companion. Other times he won’t bother. In one instance, he’ll dodge the battle altogether and go to a pub. And in my favourite nod to ignoble video game deaths, one time he barrel rolls under a moving truck but scuffs his timing. It took me back to Halo and my friend with the wart hog.
Eventually, Cage meets Rita Vrataski on the battlefield. Vrataski is a celebrated military combatant who rather implausibly defeated 200 Mimics single-handedly in a previous military campaign at Verdan. In the film’s greatest nod to its Japanese sci-fi origins, she appears to carry a sword straight out of Final Fantasy VII. After seeing use Cage leverage his experience of past deaths to fight the aliens, Vrataski reveals to him that she fleetingly inherited the same ability which lead to her famous victory. The two bond together and Cage begins to seek her out as a first port of call when he begins a new life so that they can strategize together. He also propositions her for sex in one of his lives. Living the same day over and over means he won’t die wondering.
It’s a credit to Doug Liman that he has made an action film in which the consequence of death is removed and yet the film still feels wracked with tension. Edge of Tomorrow is a film in which everything comes together perfectly and I enjoyed not just the big picture but the nitty gritty details and the minutae of this near future world.
I like how the exo-skeleton suits that the humans use are cumbersome and unwieldy, with an impractically low battery life, but are crammed with firepower. The perfect outfit for unsuspecting fodder sent in for a campaign where they aren’t expected to return.
I like how Liman trusts the audience is keeping up with the gimmick of the film and so eventually there are some very fast and abrupt cuts to communicate Cage’s (many) deaths. Sometimes this leaves the audience squeamish as we imagination a particularly painful end and other times it is leveraged for humour. For that matter, I like how Edge of Tomorrow is a little bit of everything. It has action, comedy, suspense, romance. And it shifts between these as cheerfully and confidently as Cage living his next life.
I like the design and high concept for the Mimic. These weird blue-hued octopods are all tentacles, snarls and menace. They work as a hive mind, with alphas leading the charge and a mother brain that determines where to attack next. The rules of the time travel mechanic are explained clearly from the outset and the film draws its drama from its adherence to that playbook.
I like Cruise and Blunt in their respective performances as Cage and Rita. Its great when Cruise plays against type. Cage is a fast-talking huckster, hopelessly out of his depth, who sweats on the inside. He tries to wriggle his way out of facing active duty and when he lands on the battlefield, he is hopeless. In his first life, it takes him agonizing minutes to find the safety. Meanwhile Blunt is a confident warrior who is in her element when fighting on the front lines, but she has her own vulnerabilities off the battlefield and despite the transient nature of her relationship with Cage, it does develop surprisingly organically throughout the film and is an emotional anchor to the story.
I am shocked at how good this film is. Doug Liman has been a long time director in Hollywood and he made his name with the classic comedy Swingers three decades ago. In recent times he hasn’t necessarily shown that he has the same eye for quality. In 2010 he made the risible sci-fi film Jumper and his most recent work prior to Edge of Tomorrow was a show called I Just Want My Pants Back. With Edge of Tomorrow, he is in career best form. How often can you say that of an artist in their mid-Fifties? Edge of Tomorrow is smart, expertly made and sits up there with Inception and Source Code as one of the best offerings in the genre in recent years.