It is no coincidence that the new sci-fi flick “Edge of Tomorrow” was released on the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Within the first 15 minutes of the film, we see the nations of the world launch a last-ditch-effort assault on an alien species that has taken control of Europe.
The protagonist, played by Tom Cruise, is part of the initial attack on French shorelines. Things don’t exactly go the Hollywood route though; the forces are quickly annihilated by an overwhelming enemy and Cruise himself is killed in action. Then the real movie starts.
It turns out that Cruise’s character has been caught in a time-loop; each time he dies, he wakes up 24 hours before the battle. Using this new power, Cruise’s character, Major William Cage, must train himself to outmaneuver the enemy, all while trying to gain an understanding of his extraterrestrial foe.
The film plays out like a video game: Cage progressively gets further and further into the battle before making a fatal mistake, at which point he gets sent back to the beginning. It sounds like a repetitive concept, but the filmmakers manage to continuously construct new obstacles and situations that keep the action fresh and surprisingly funny.
The script, written by Christopher McQuarrie – who penned the 1994 non-linear crime classic “The Usual Suspects” – is based on a Japanese novel, and is seductively crafty and clever. McQuarrie’s cerebral writing sets the stage for a film that is well ahead of the curve when it comes to summer blockbuster cinema.
Over the past few years, Cruise’s career has been successful but boring. After portraying a long string of bland, stoic action heroes, Cruise shakes things up by playing a cowardly military Public Relations official. Early on, Cage does everything he can to avoid combat duty and eventually resorts to desertion. The continuation of Cage’s service, now on the doomed frontlines, serves as punishment for his flagrant cowardice. It is entertaining to see Cruise finally take a small step outside of his comfort zone and play an untraditionally queasy and inexperienced soldier.
Another atypical casting decision pays off when Bill Paxton appears as country-bumpkin Sergeant Farell. Not only is it refreshing to see Paxton get some overdue attention from the camera, but its an absolute delight to see him settle into a role he so clearly enjoys.
The real standout in this film, however, is Emily Blunt who plays Rita Vrataski, nicknamed “The Angel of Verdun” after winning humanity’s first victory during a battle in the aforementioned European city.
Blunt plays arguably the strongest female protagonist in an action film in decades. What really sets Vrataski apart from other heroines is that she doesn’t playing second fiddle to the macho hero. In fact, in “Edge of Tomorrow,” Vrataski is that hero.
Vrataski takes it upon herself to mentor Cage – loop after loop, death after death – into becoming a formidable soldier. Action cinema has seen strong females in the past, but rarely have the women been more impressive and capable than their male counterparts. For this reason, “Edge of Tomorrow” may very well be a genre landmark.
The rest of the cast is rounded out well by the small but colorful characters of J-Squad, Cage’s unit.
The film is seamless in its pacing and tension. As it zips right along, audiences have little time to reflect on possible plot holes, but that is of little concern because the story playing out in front of them is so absorbing that viewers won’t want to take the time to go back and ponder the mechanics of time travel.
In addition, “Edge of Tomorrow” triggers its fair share of laughs. The freedom of being able to kill Cruise is fully utilized for comedic effect without tiring out the joke. Romance is well executed too. A requisite romantic sub-plot is not arbitrarily inserted like in most action films. Whatever romance there is feels real and spontaneous.
Overall, “Edge of Tomorrow” is relentless, fun, and in some ways, innovative. The filmmakers strike a comfortable but exciting balance by shaking up tired genre conventions while flawlessly executing others in captivating ways. Both myself and The Lakeland Times photographer Dean Hall give it 3.5 out of 4 stars.
“Edge of Tomorrow” is rated PG-13 and is now playing at Lakeland Cinema, Woodruff.
Michael Strasburg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.