Warner Bros. really dropped the ball marketing Tom Cruise action vehicle Edge of Tomorrow this summer. They chose the vague, completely forgettable title Edge of Tomorrow instead of the baffling, silly but actually memorable All You Need Is Kill, the name of the Japanese light novel the film is based on. The trailers sold the film as a dime-a-dozen blockbuster with a lot of explosions and robots. They’re attempting to right their wrongs with the DVD release (though most might think the film is actually called Live, Die, Repeat), but the damage was already done in theaters; it did middling business at the box office and nobody expected it to be any good. It was treated as a churned-out summer blockbuster, but the problem is it isn’t.
It stars Tom Cruise as Major William Cage, a smooth-talking public relations guy for the military who threatens a British general, gets arrested and wakes up stripped of his rank and put on the frontlines of combat. Uh-oh! See, we’re in the future, soldiers wear high-tech, often malfunctioning battle suits, and there’s a race of alien beings taking over the planet. To make matters worse, every time Cage dies in combat, he is reawakened in the beginning of the day, destined to live out his fate over and over again. Can he use his interesting gift to stop the aliens from taking over the Earth?
Groundhog Day with extreme doses of robot action is a pretty good comparison point; it even keeps that classic’s sense of black humor, something I wasn’t expecting from the film. Director Doug Liman gets sick glee out of watching Tom Cruise die in a myriad of different ways, and there’s even a montage of him getting shot in the head over and over again. The screenplay is full of dry, dark humor and it hits more than it misses. I laughed out loud on multiple occasions, which is more than I can say about a lot of comedy films.
Another impressive feature of the screenplay (co-written by The Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie) is the amount of characterization it puts into its main characters. Cruise perfectly brings out Major Cage’s complex emotions; his initial cockiness to his fear to his world-weary repetition. Cage’s relationship with female lead Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a super-soldier that once had the time-warping power Cage has, is also quite interesting. Chemistry between the two often threatens to break out but is thwarted by the lack of a day two. The fact that the female lead has to take the male lead by the hand and help him survive as opposed to the other way around is another applause-worthy concept the film contains.
The time-loop concept threatens to grow old multiple times throughout the film, but it’s always only fleeting. Every time you get the feeling you’ve seen it all before (literally), the film turns out to be one step ahead of you. It presents scenes as new concepts for the characters, but it turns out Cage has lived it many a time. It’s smarter than a summer blockbuster should be, and that makes me happy.
Edge of Tomorrow (really should have been All You Need is Kill) does have slight flaws (there’s a forced romantic relationship between the two leads near the end, the ending wasn’t as powerful as it could’ve been), but overall, the film is transcendent of its blow-’em-up genre tag. The acting is great (and I don’t even like Cruise), the screenplay is smart, and the action sequences are exceptionally suspenseful and well-directed. Don’t be like everybody else and sleep on this one; it’s much, much better than you’d think.
Zach Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.