Hollywood’s been attempting to adapt movies from video games for over two decades now without producing anything particularly good. It’s ironic then that Edge of Tomorrow, an excellent video game movie, which stands head and shoulders above most previous ones, isn’t based on a video game. It’s actually adapted from a book (the amusingly titled All You Need is Kill) but the influence of video game troupes is clear and utilised to great effect. The protagonist has to navigate his way through a hostile environment with a mission to achieve, every time he messes up and dies, he awakens, (or re-spawns) at his starting point, able to take another shot having learned from his mistakes.
Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t only take notices from video games though, it’s also drawing from a diverse spectrum of modern classic movies. It’s military versus aliens imagery unsurprisingly contains call-backs to Starship Troopers and Aliens, (Bill Paxton even appears as a Sergeant) but rather than having its action take place on some distant planet, it’s all here on Earth. Specifically, the beaches of France, an obvious World War II parallel, the combat scenes attempt to recall the astonishing Omaha Beach sequence in Saving Private Ryan with a sci-fi twist. The frantic battles are shot from ground level, giving the soldier’s point of view, as the multi-tentacled aliens (called ‘Mimics’) zoom in an out of shot. Edge of Tomorrow’s biggest ploy is it’s time-loop structure, which will of course draw comparisons with the peerless Groundhog Day.
Years after the alien invasion, William Cage (Tom Cruise), a major in the ‘United Defence Forces’, enjoys his role as a spokesman. He’s avoided ever seeing combat and when ordered to join an upcoming attack, he cowardly attempts to blackmail his way out, leading to a swift arrest. He awakens to find himself demoted to private and about to be deployed in the first attack of an upcoming battle. It’s a disaster, the Mimics have anticipated the attack, Cage and his whole unit are swiftly killed.
He then awakens at the start of the day again, only to relive it and die once more. After cottoning on to his new situation, he runs into legendary soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who understands his abilities. She knows because she once had them too, and tells him to find her when he wakes up, so they can find a way to work together and defeat the invaders once and for all.
There are a couple of hurdles any film utilising a time loop plot device will have to get over. Firstly, the explanation for how this situation is happening in the first place; Edge of Tomorrow does offer one, a rather nonsensical feat relating to the alien’s biology, but it wisely never dwells on it at length, as if aware of its own ridiculous premise, and secondly, having to repeat numerous scenes without boring the audience. Director Doug Liman’s smart enough to know that we don’t want to sit through the same thing again and again with a confused protagonist so once we get past the second day he starts to shake things up. The skilful pacing uses several visual or dialogue reference points to enable it to skip through early scenes in seconds, and then later on, presents key moments for the first time, with the audience initially unsure as to whether Cruise has been through this many times before or if it’s his first time. It’s a method that always keeps Edge of Tomorrow fresh and exciting.
One of Groundhog Day’s funniest moments was its death montage, as Bill Murray valiantly attempts to bring about his own demise via a number of different methods only to fail and wake up again each time. Edge of Tomorrow has the potential to really top this as, unlike Groundhog Day, Cruise must die to re-start the day, he can’t just fall asleep. This results in one of the biggest laughs of the year so far, but unfortunately after that it mostly reverts back to Blunt shooting him in the head numerous times. The film never loses its sense of humour, but never tops that one priceless first act moment either.
Each fatal blasting of Cruise’s skull does typically occur offscreen though, as Edge of Tomorrow is the latest in a line of films to suffer from what I like to call the ‘PG-13 Problem’. This film is about as violent and intense as a PG-13 movie can be but it would have so benefitted from losing the restraints. Liman uses violence effectively both for horrific purposes in the battle scenes, and for comedic ones in the training, I’m confident it would have been served better by just going all-out with the splatter. Since the film itself is inviting the comparisons, imagine if Saving Private Ryan or Aliens had been forced to cut down to PG-13? If this had been made in the eighties, the effects might not have been so good but it would likely have been a lot ballsier.
In my review of Oblivion last year I noted that it’s a shame Tom Cruise keeps on sticking to the same persona in his big movies when we know he’s capable of more, this finds him somewhere in between. As he trains, we gradually see him become the ever-charismatic, leading man Tom Cruise we all know so well, but at the start it’s nice to see him playing a smarmy, gutless character. Emily Blunt gets to make a strong case for herself as a new action star too, and thankfully, bar a couple of unnecessary blips, it doesn’t try and force a romance into proceedings.
As expected from its video game inspired structure, the ultimate goal of Will’s mission is mapped out in advance, but there’s barely a dull moment along the way. Unfortunately, Edge of Tomorrow feebly lets itself down with a terrible ending that misses the mark in several ways. It not only makes next to no sense, but feels out of place and close to betraying what’s come before. I haven’t read the source novel but I’d be willing to wager a considerable amount that this conclusion was altered from it and likely tacked on by the studio. It’s a real shame to end one of the summer’s best films yet on such a bum note.
Edge of tomorrow is a shot in the arm for Doug Liman’s career, which I feel has been slipping downhill since his debut. It’s this year’s Pacific Rim, it has one big flaw, and might resemble and draw from a great deal of other movies, but it’s a great deal of fun and a welcome new addition to the blockbuster season.