With more than two weeks left before summer officially begins, it seems like a crime against the concept of time to already start calling a movie the best blockbuster of the summer. Luckily, I’m talking about Doug Liman’s sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow, a film that doesn’t mind turning time inside out in order to squeeze everything worthwhile out of a fantastic concept. It’s a gut-busting thrill ride, and easily one of Tom Cruise’s most enjoyable performances. Plainly stated, it’s awesome as f—(explosion).
Edge of Tomorrow is loosely adapted from the stellar 2004 novel All You Need is Kill by Japanese author Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Fair Game) flawlessly transition the events of the book for American audiences. They excise scenes and characters so that Liman can make the most of the looping motif through cleverly edited sequences. And though the main character could have easily stayed Japanese—we all remember The Last Samurai, right?—Cruise anchors this story and makes it impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. (Except for Kurt Russell, because I always spend at least one minute in every action movie imagining him leading the charge.)
Cruise plays military campaigner Major William Cage, an anti-warrior who somewhat arbitrarily finds himself on the front lines of a major battle against a swarm of alien enemies called Mimics, which are like tentacled CGI pinballs bouncing off of invisible paddles in a coked-out fashion. But this isn’t their story, and Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t give them the narrative short shrift. They are the thrust of the movie and nothing would be happening without them, particularly the thing troubling Cage.
One wrong move on the battlefield (or right move, depending on how you look at it) grants Cage the “power” of reliving the same period of time over and over again. Unlearned and useless as a soldier, he dies not long after landing in the warzone, only to wake up the day before with Bill Paxton’s priceless Master Sergeant Farell and a motley crew of cocky grunts, including Game of Throne‘s Tony Way, Attack the Block‘s Franz Drameh, and Robin Hood‘s Jonas Armstrong. On the plus side, he retains the knowledge he gained before he died, so he gets smarter, stronger, and really, really sick of dying.
Edge of Tomorrow is not a movie that deals with death in an existential way, though it may teach you a lesson in the hazards of striving for perfection. In any case, death is ever-present and lurking around every mud hole and crashed dropship. Things get dark quickly, and it’s a testament to everyone involved that the majority of the film rides a firm balance between intense action and bold, bawdy-lite humor. It’s a movie that creates a lot of punchlines with Cruise repeatedly getting shot in the head, and incites none of the bipartisan reaction to guns as similarly bullet-ridden movies. The absurdities of Cage’s repetitious lifestyle are given a unique comedic spin within the action movie landscape and remain completely independent from a particular Harold Ramis/Bill Murray comedy. You know the one. Even the should-be-cheesy one-liners work.
But a movie can’t all be just Tom Cruise getting called a maggot for 113 minutes. (Seriously, I’ve pleaded for Cruise naysayers to go and see this film already, but it’s worth noting that he takes a lot of abuse in this movie, in almost every way possible.) His mission is to save the world, of course, and to do so he must connect with the Full Metal Bitch, Rita Vrataski, played by an almost too-stoic Emily Blunt. She knows exactly what he’s going through, and she achieved her vast military credentials by going through the same start-over scenario in a previous battle. With the help of another Game of Thrones actor, Noah Taylor, the plot progresses and the aliens’ secret is discovered. Will they stop them or won’t they?
The rise to the climax becomes solely plot driven, as parts of Edge of Tomorrow‘s charm take a backseat to action and mayhem. It’s well-directed action and mayhem, mind you, and there are a couple of underwater scenes that were exquisitely filmed, but it’s a predictably delivered letdown after everything that comes before. And while I would never spoil where this flick’s secrets are kept, I feel comfortable saying the ending is a “love it or hate it” situation. I loved it, but it’s no slow walk into the sunset for Cage and Rita.
I truly expected Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla to stand tall and alone atop my favorite movies of the summer, if not the entire year, but it failed spectacularly in terms of characters. In putting Cage through an endless line of trial-and-error tragedies, Edge of Tomorrow is as much about the arc of its increasingly haggard main character as it is about being an explosive sci-fi war thriller. There are brains to go with this robotic exoskeleton brawn, and I dare Hollywood to deliver a more exhilarating trip to the theater in 2014.