Tom Cruise, I think of any number of movies from Top Gun and Risky Business to the Mission Impossible series. He's the type of movie star who if he's in a movie, I'll give it a shot. What genre has provided some of Cruise's best work? That would be the science fiction genre, including Oblivion, War of the Worlds, Minority Report, and a new entry to the list, 2014's Edge of Tomorrow.
It has been five long, bloody years since an alien race dubbed 'Mimics' has landed on Earth, specifically all across Europe. Banding together, mankind is finally seeing some victories coming together, their forces pushing back to the point that an immense, world-encompassing invasion of the European continent is fast-approaching. Among the military forces is Major William Cage (Cruise), a PR man who has done his best to promote the war, get the people behind the effort. Through an argument with a superior officer, Cage finds himself not as a PR man, but as a front-line infantry soldier ready to lead the first wave of the invasion. The attack is horrific, a surprise invasion not so surprising. Cage himself is killed when a new kind of Mimic strikes, but he isn't quite dead. He wakes up at the same point a day before, experiencing the identical day down to each personal interaction. A figurehead of the fighting forces, an international hero, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), knows exactly what's going on with Cage. Can this inexperienced soldier hold the key to Earth's salvation?
Wow, this is the sort of story and premise you hope for in a really well-written, well-executed science fiction film. Heck, in any film. It will be difficult to review this sci-fi flick from director Doug Liman without giving away at least some sort of spoiler so be forewarned. I'll be discussing the major twist that propels 'Edge' into the guts of its story, one you no doubt may have heard about, but still....I WARNED YOU!!! SPOILERS!!! So what is the oh-so-original premise? This description minimizes how good the movie is, but this is Groundhog Day with a sci-fi edge. Through a mishap in battle, Cruise's Cage is reborn at the same instance every time he dies in battle. In other words, he can die seemingly infinite times only to be thrown back a day later before the invasion and do it all over again. His death literally signifies a "Re-do" button for not only himself, but the world as a whole. Life goes on, getting a fresh start each and every time Cage dies.
So yeah, that could be called a gimmick. 'Groundhog' is a classic, loved by fans. Another somewhat similar movie, Vantage Point, used a storytelling format that rewound the story so we could see it from a different perspective. I saw that one in theaters, the audience audibly groaning by the second or third "rewind." That most assuredly is not the issue here. The screenplay isn't content to be just smart. It takes the story somewhere, and once we learn what Cage is going through, we don't see everything. We see snippets of his seemingly never-ending life of one day. He dies on the beach in countless ways -- the battle showing all the countless ways he can meet his demise -- and starts over, meeting his squad leader, meeting his fellow soldiers and then is thrown into the battle. Some "days" we see a lot, others bits and pieces. It is a difficult premise to explain but just know that in the end, it is worth it. We're introduced to it, and then the story breathes.
Look, here it is. I like Tom Cruise, and yes, I know everybody doesn't feel that way. He's an actor and a movie star, and I especially liked his performance here. Where I described the story's background a little bit, I'm not going to delve too much into Cruise's Cage or how he ends up in the situation he does. I will say it surprised me because he plays against type early on, an unlikely hero thrust into a situation that could save or doom mankind. Nothing big, right? Joining him is rising star Emily Blunt, her Rita a modern day Rosie the Riveter of sorts, except she's right at the forefront of the fighting. She may not look like a prototypical action hero, but it ends up working exceptionally well. On top of that, her chemistry with Cruise is spot-on. There is a simple, effective chemistry between them that simply put....just works. Another big positive, the possible developing relationship between them is kept in the background, hinted at but never addressed head-on. Two very good performances that don't get lost in the epic qualities and scale of the science fiction story.
Who else to look for? Brendan Gleeson is the face of mankind's defense, his General Brigham the commander of the United Defense Forces. Bill Paxton plays Master Sergeant Farell, Cage's new squad leader who becomes the face of Cage's improbable dilemma. In the squad, look for Jonas Armstong, Tony Way, Kick Gurry, Franz Drameh, Dragomir Mrsic and Charlotte Riley.
As cool as the premise is (and it is very cool), I especially liked some of the quieter moments, even the scenes with some truly dark humor. In the second half of the movie, Cage and Rita are talking, Rita discovering that the two of them have been in this situation countless times before. Cage remembers. Rita doesn't. What if they stopped trying over and over again to save the world? What if they just ran away? Scenes like that add some emotional depth to a story with style and interesting story to burn. I didn't love the last 20 minutes or so, but there is a relative twist added that I thought worked especially well. The final scenes had a timeline discrepancy that I can't quite wrap my head around, but that's a minor thing.
Big picture? This is what you look for in a science fiction flick. With touches of Groundhog Day, Starship Troopers and more recently, Source Code, 'Edge' is excellent. History buffs will no doubt get a kick out of it too, the current invasion of Europe resembling D-Day right down to the tiny details. By the time the troops actually hit the beaches, it's like a modern-day attack on the beaches at Normandy. A very cool movie with lots to offer.
The Edge of Tomorrow (2014): ***/****