Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Live. Die. Repeat.

Beginning pre-production with Edge of Tomorrow on July 20, 2012, less than a week after wrapping up photography on Oblivion (2013), Tom Cruise stars in this grand scale futuristic thriller, based on the Japanese manga/ light novel titled All You Need Is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka — with illustrations by Yoshitoshi ABe — which imitates and mixes the best elements of Groundhog Day (1993), Aliens (1986) and The Matrix (1999) creating a dynamic, frantic, science-fiction whirlwind. In an era congested with needless Superhero exploits, excessive prequels, uncalled for sequels and burnt-out adaptations, it’s refreshing when a major studio pulls together an original, inventive and stimulating picture with an audacious concept — and Edge of Tomorrow is exactly that. Superbly executed with veteran action director Doug Liman, The Bourne Identity (2002), taking the reigns, Edge of Tomorrow is a breath of fresh-air in the contemporary remake-driven film market and quite possibly one of the best sci-fi pictures to emerge over the past decade or so.

Nothing new to see here!
Nothing new to see here!

The film opens in the near future, where a menacing alien race — nicknamed ‘Mimics’ for their ability to efficiency impersonate and respond to worldwide military combat strategies, thus making them nearly unbeatable by any armed forces unit on the planet — have hit the Earth in an unrelenting assault — starting from Germany and overtaking almost the entirety of Western Europe. A final surprise attack — predicted to be a successful assault against the Mimics — is planned on the beaches of France’s west coast, with the soldiers being dropped from their base across the English Channel at Heathrow Airport.

As success is predicted, General Brigham — played by Brendan Gleeson, in his most hardass, no-nonsense role yet — orders Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), whose background is in journalism — having no real combat practice, never experiencing a day of war in his life — to the front lines with a camera crew. When Cage attempts to weasel his way out of the task using blackmail, Brigham responds by arresting him and dumping him at the Heathrow base, with a fabricated background that labels him a deserter and a con man. Cage is then forced to join an infantry unit known as the J-Squad, and is sent off to take part in the invasion. Upon arriving at the beachfront the soldiers are immediately ambushed as they find the Mimics awaiting their arrival. Cage is killed within minutes — slaughtering an unusually large Alpha Mimic and being soaked in its blood — and the operation fails, resulting to be somewhat of a suicide mission.

Upon his death, Cage blacks out and awakens at the precise moment he arrives at Heathrow, and lives out the same day of training and deployment the following morning. Every time he dies, he loops back to the moment he arrives on the base, and despite his efforts to warn and save people, they dismiss his claims and the assault keeps playing out tragically. In one loop, however, Cage saves Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) — a victorious soldier who became a symbol for the war effort after helping mankind finally achieve success with the creation of combat ‘jackets,’ armored exoskeleton type weapons — and when she realizes that he can predict the future, she tells him to find her the next time he wakes up.

Ellen Ripley's protégé!
Ellen Ripley’s protégé!

In the subsequent loops, Cage eventually manages to locate Vrataski at the barracks, and she explains that she too had experienced the same phenomenon during her first day of combat in Verdun — the ability to rewrite the future. Cage soon discovers that the Mimics have the ability to manipulate time, and when killing the rare Alpha Mimic during his first assault, the creature’s blood transferred its time-control powers over to him. Using the time loops, Vrataski is able to train Cage, improving his combat ability, teaching him to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, so that the two can hunt down and destroy the Omega, the brain of the Mimics, in order to save humankind. As Cage and Rita take the fight to the aliens, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the merciless enemy.

What could have been the film’s biggest setback predominantly becomes its greatest asset, as Liman manages to break the chains of formulaic repetition allowing Edge of Tomorrow to come out feeling surprisingly original. Edge of Tomorrow plays out like a cinematic videogame, as each time Cage dies, the clock is reset and he gets another chance to reshape the future, though it will take many, many replays before he learns how to navigate his way around the events of the day — where dying is as harmless as it is in a Call of Duty game, though possibly more painful — and reach the elusive next level. The notion of reliving the same day over and over again may appear to sound quite monotonous, but thanks to the brisk direction of Doug Liman, goings-on are kept fresh and edgy, as a multitude of new characters are introduced throughout the temporal cycle and the narrative is constantly being rewritten, truly advancing and continually evolving — even though the day does not — in ways that are surprising and unanticipated. Liman has fun with the time travel component, using the clock as a filmmaking tool — rather than just a narrative element — to drive the story forward, revealing information to the audience, not through Cage’s eyes, but through a spectator’s, as we the audience are, more often than not, unsure whether the moment playing out on screen has happened beforehand, making for a compelling and attractive story-telling structure.

The adapted screenplay, penned by Christopher McQuarrie, The Usual Suspects (1995) — who clearly knows his way around a mind-bending mystery genre — and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth — having previously worked with Liman on Fair Game (2010) — could have been overly grim and stern, but instead is mischievous and playful, in imaginative ways, as the scribes delight in the material, conjuring up unique and exciting scenarios to keep audiences thrilled, amused and constantly on their toes.

... buckle up and enjoy the ride ...
… buckle up and enjoy the ride …

Edge of Tomorrow looks like something out of a war-torn videogame — Metal Gear Solid instantly comes to mind — and while visually appearing to come across as somewhat generic looking — who hasn’t seen a futuristic frenzied warfare type setting in cinema before? — this ultramodern dystopia is highly creative and novel in countless ways, enhanced by the work of Cinematographer Dion Beebe — who shot Cruise so memorably, working as director of photography in Collateral (2004) — delivering a succession of stable, balanced, yet dynamic images on a color palette of metallic blues, grays and browns. The expertly designed Mimics, who resemble overgrown, oil-soaked, radioactive crustaceans, are one of the film’s major attention-grabbing elements, as are the weaponized armored exoskeleton, coming across as modified, futuristic Ripley suits from James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), all adding to the picture’s distinct cinematic style. The spectacular visual effects are extravagant and engrossing, and the film’s explosive action sequences are chaotic, destructive and fast paced; accompanied by James Herbert’s, Gangster Squad (2013), snappy, intuitive editing — enormously aiding the film’s repetitive nature — Edge of Tomorrow becomes an engaging, urgent and panic-stricken experience.

Following his creditable work in Oblivion (2013), Tom Cruise is in particularly fine form here, embodying the cowardly persona of Major William Cage — a hopeless, ineffectual soldier trying to stay alive on the battlefield — at the start of the picture, through to the heroic, courageous soldier he becomes — the product of endless drilling supervised by a merciless Rita. The believability of Cruise’s character makes his conversion genuinely satisfying, as he plays this transformation out brilliantly, with honesty, humor and heart — Cruise non-fans will certainly find it difficult to slam his performance here. Emily Blunt, Looper (2012), is perfectly cast, and physically adept, as super soldier Rita Vrataski; she is alert, energized and emotionally present, giving Cruise a worthy love interest to bounce off — though a leading lady closer to Cruise’s age would be a nice change — and Liman handles the pair’s expressive relationship with a pleasing lightness that extends to the proceedings as a whole. Other noteworthy players are Noah Taylor, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), as Vrataski’s trusty scientist friend turned mechanic and Bill Paxton, Aliens (1986), who is no stranger to the sci-fi genre, as over-the-top Master Sergeant Farell, commanding officer of the oddball J-Squad.

Tom's having trouble keeping track of his kill death ratio.
Tom’s having trouble keeping track of his kill death ratio.

Though Edge of Tomorrow has more than a few differences to All You Need Is Kill — in the original book the Mimics are invading Tokyo, Rita is American, and Cage is a Japanese man named Keiji Kiriya, who earns the nickname ‘Killer Cage’ by the end, to simply mention a few — it’s a strong and solid adaptation of material that could have easily been destroyed if handled differently. Edge of Tomorrow solidifies that Tom Cruise still has what it takes to carry a summer blockbuster, plus the eye for selecting a quality role that’s more than just guns-blazing, balls-out action. Along with wonderful direction by Doug Liman, backed by an excellent creative team, Edge of Tomorrow is a gripping, immersive, knee-knockingly tense film going experience — not having felt this sort of edge-of-your-seat entertainment in a very long time — which truly takes its audience on one riotous journey. Be sure to check this flick out in 3D if given the opportunity; you won’t be disappointed.

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by S-Littner

Edge of Tomorrow is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia