Film Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Doug Liman's half-inventive 'Full Metal Alien Groundhog Day' war film is buoyed at first by Tom Cruise's rascally twinkle before falling back on shopworn battle-bot effects and videogame plotting.

The spirits of World War II thrum mightily through Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, visually in everything from the sight of aerial troopships soaring over the Dover cliffs to the rakish tilt of Tom Cruise’s officer’s cap. It self-consciously evokes the grand, terrifying spectacle and unifying purpose of the Normandy invasion. This even though the enemy forces occupying most of Europe are not Nazis but multi-tentacled, wolverine-nasty aliens called Mimics who are about this close to cleaning humanity’s clock. It’s up to an initially cowardly Cruise and a fearsomely muscled Emily Blunt to take them out, which they can accomplish by Cruise reliving the same gruesome day of battle until he figures out how to achieve victory.

Adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill, the film dispenses quickly with its setup in the approved manner of alien-invasion flicks by a quick montage of doctored (sometimes none-too-skillfully) news footage. By the time the film properly starts, Europe has been lost to the Mimics, and humanity’s United Defense Forces are gearing up for one final assault that’s meant to end the war.

Cruise’s William Cage is a slick military public-relations man who’s happy to go on TV extolling the virtues of the UDF’s new exoskeleton battle suits and the heroism of the fearsome Mimic killer Rita Vrataski (Blunt, restlessly impatient) at the Battle of Verdun. Cage is less enamored of these things when invasion commander General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) tells him that he’ll be hitting the beach with a camera crew as part of the first assault wave. Demurring, Cage laughs, “I do this to avoid doing that”; it’s a classically Cruise-ian wink-and-chuckle moment, only Liman upends expectations by using it to lay bare Cage’s cowardice, not show off his charm.

Next thing he knows, Cage is charged with desertion and tossed into an assault squad. He doesn’t last long once the troopships and hovercraft get to France, but then almost nobody else does, either. It’s a massacre, but one that he wakes up from just after being killed, back in the moment when he’s about to join his squad. In this Groundhog Day scenario, Cage eventually realizes that he needs to become a better soldier, survive long enough to get off the beach, find Vrataski and convince her that he’s not crazy, and smash the Mimics once and for all.

At first, Edge of Tomorrow clips along with the dash and brio of a war film from a forgotten time. The dialogue crackles with sardonic humor—likely at least in part due to co-writer Christopher McQuarrie, something of a Cruise specialist after Valkyrie and Jack Reacher—and lashings of schadenfreude as the formerly peacocking Cage gets cut down to size as just another grunt. As Cage’s malevolently grinning Master Sergeant Farell, a caterpillar-mustached Bill Paxton fairly gleams with sadistic sangfroid.

If only the rest of the film could have followed these scenes’ vitality and purpose. Once the story gets locked into its time-loop scenes where Cage and Vrataski train and spar when not clanking about in mechanized combat, it devolves into little more than a juiced-up Xbox game where the characters simply need to figure out how to solve the puzzle and kill the really, really big alien (yes, incredibly, it does all basically boil down to something that simple) while expending endless lives in the process.

The less time spent thinking about the both garbled and yet oversimplified explanation for how the Mimics can be defeated and the reasons for the time-loop, the better. One could say that the best thing for all parties concerned would be to not expend time thinking about anything in the film, whether it’s the arbitrary car chases, drab conclusion, or fact that—unlike Groundhog Day’s Bill Murray in the same situation—Cage’s endless dying has apparently had zero impact on his state of mind. Best to appreciate what’s solidly enjoyable in the film for the short while that it lasts.

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