EDGE OF TOMORROW
DIRECTOR: Doug Liman
CAST: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton
An alien race sweeping the Earth; an American general leading the counter-offensive; $178 million and 3D thrown into the battle; and Tom Cruise at the frontlines. Shrugging already? Don’t. Doug Liman juggles not just all of the above but also time travel to create a film that is not just highly enjoyable but even funny and, surprise of surprises, comprehensible.
Based on Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow — starting from a much better name — has just the right cast both in front of and behind the camera, who play to their strengths and have fun with their weaknesses.
That includes Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr and Mrs Smith), who understands both kinetic action and kinetic romance, and scriptwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), who can manoeuvre a mystery. That includes Tom Cruise, who starts off as a smooth-talking army media relations guy, Major Cage, trying to duck combat duty with his 32-wattage smile and a shrug, and who ends up saving the world. And that includes Emily Blunt’s Rita with the sensitive eyes, who plunges into battles, no questions asked, and is the face of this war for being its most decorated soldier as well as for the nickname she has earned — “Full Metal Bitch”.
That nickname is thrown casually around Rita, but it’s clear that within the behemoth and limitations of a summer blockbuster, McQuarrie and his fellow script-writers are tapping into their inner Stanley Kubricks. There are other hints at the mindlessness of wars in the basic premise of the story.
Cage finds himself in that situation by mocking the American general (Gleeson) who is leading what looks like a lost war against the aliens. The latter are dubbed “Mimics” for their ability to copy humankind’s best arsenal and use it against it. The angry general packs off Cage to the battlefront at Heathrow, naming him a “deser-ter”. His protests are ignored even as the inexperienced Cage is put into a battle suit and airdropped at a French beach along with the others to take on the aliens — Normandy is never mentioned but few will miss the parallels to the June 6 World War II landing.
Cage is barely able to walk inside that hulk of a suit, but nobody else fares much better. Liman depicts the ridiculousness of those machines not just by the gait of the soldiers but also by how a hapless Cage struggles to understand the numerous commands he has to deal with in the middle of battle. In contrast, the Mimics are minimal, no-frill things that move swiftly, emerge rapidly from under the ground and consume voraciously. There is no attempt to explain, which is fine, because, really, what explanation is there?
Not surprisingly, the Mimics make short work of Cage and he dies soon, after having seen Rita meet an equally quick death and having somehow managed to kill a particularly big alien and being drowned in its blood.
It’s when he wakes up in shock that he realises he is back where he started at the Heathrow base and the day is repeating itself. Even as he is trying to get his bearings and to dodge the mistakes he made last time, he again finds himself dead. When he awakes, it is Day 1 again. The film manages its own Groundhog Day well, particularly how Rita is introduced into Cage’s story, how it explains what’s happening to him (it has to do with the alien blood) and particularly how it propels the story forward even while going in loops. It knows when repeating a sequence in entirety works, when skipping some works better, and when only glimpses will do. Even Cage and Rita’s relationship blossoms over these back-and-forth sequences, without seeming too improbable.
Cruise is smart enough to allow himself to be walloped painfully and shot mercilessly by Rita again and again — only when he dies can the loop start all over again, in the hope of going a step further in the war against the Mimics. However, it’s Blunt who’s absolutely marvellous as the tough-soft soldier marshalling him on.
The ending is a bit of a disappointment, particularly as the film is so competent about explaining itself throughout. However, if aliens must die, they must die.