Groundhog Day is the first film I can recall seeing that mined the humor in a temporal glitch. Phil (Bill Murray) lives through the same day time and again, gradually learning how to maneuver through the inevitable obstacles to achieve the requisite happy ending. Amusing as that film is, however, there’s a depth to the premise that’s ignored. Enter the amazing film Inception. Now, to be fair, Inception isn’t about a temporal glitch as much as it is about dreams within dreams, but there’s still a fascinating and compelling temporal interplay in each of the story’s many layers.
Edge of Tomorrow mines the same temporal rift, set in a near term future where a meteor has crashed into southeastern Europe just to produce a swarm of nasty, violent aliens who quickly overcome our best attempts to defend our planet. The aliens have taken over Europe and as a last ditch attempt, United Defense Force troops are amassed for deployment to storm the French beaches and drive them back from the Channel.
US Army PR flack Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) shows up on the eve of the assault and is startled to find that combined forces leader General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) has assigned him to be on the front lines of the assault. In an amusing play on Cruise’s usual brash, egotistical American character, in Edge of Tomorrow the prospect terrifies Cage and he argues with the General, which ends badly. Next thing he knows, he’s waking up in the middle of the military base at Heathrow Airport, demoted to a private and with Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) yelling at him to get the $#@$# up and prepare for the assault!
The hero of the UDF is Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a one woman alien destruction machine with her machete and rugged ninja moves. Posters adorn walls to inspire the grunts, and she’s tough and forbidding, leaving even the cliché tough guys agape at her prowess during training sessions. Cage sees the posters and admires her, but doesn’t interact with her at all, getting fitted with an ExoSuit where he doesn’t even know how to disable the safety mechanism so he can actually fire at the enemy. Reluctantly he climbs aboard a four-prop transport helicopter and is promptly killed by an alien “Alpha” seconds after he hits the beach in France.
Just to wake up again to Master Sergeant Farell kicking him and yelling at him to get the $#@[email protected]% up and prepared for the assault.
And so we’re introduced to the temporal hiccup that is caused by his interaction with the aliens just before he was killed, a temporal glitch that lets him make different decisions on assault day to try and survive. Each time he dies, he’s “reset”. At one point he encounters Vrataski and when he tells her he’s been through the experience before, she recognizes him as someone who has this power and tells him “come find me when you wake up”.
Truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of Tom Cruise as an actor and find that any film he’s in inevitably ends up being all about him, which is particularly tedious when he seems to play the same character each time. Even the Mission Impossible films, it’s only the most recent (Ghost Protocol) where he’s a bit less front-and-center and it’s a far better film because of it. Edge of Tomorrow stands as one of his very best action movies and the addition of the rugged, muscular Emily Blunt as the female lead works very well: they’re both tough and driven, out to save the planet if they can just survive the assault and figure out the alien chain of command.
The aliens are definitely inspired by the spider-like metallic monsters from The Matrix, with a similar fluidity to their movement. This time, however, they’re fast — really fast — and so quite dangerous to the slower reacting humans. Overall, the balance of current technology and slightly future tech is very well done, a believable five or ten years in the future. No plasma weapons, no hypersonic jets, just modern military tech with just a bit of additional development. The film could also have veered into cheesy Starship Troopers territory but didn’t, keeping the military encounters quite believable.
Modern sci-fi action films almost always fall apart in the last reel. The story gets to a certain point and just collapses as logic fails and the need for a quick, neat ending beckons. Think “common cold” and War of the Worlds, for example.
Much to my surprise, Edge of Tomorrow didn’t fall into that trap and while I kept waiting for it to turn daft, the storyline is solid and believable through the last moments of the movie. From the opening scene, it’s non-stop action and mayhem with a fascinating storyline and a lot of decent acting. And those special visual effects. Terrific all around.
Which is why you really need to go see this surprisingly good, exciting action film.