Ostensibly a film with time travel as a central plot device, Edge Of Tomorrow is less influenced by the temporal mechanics of The Time Machine or the paradoxes Looper and is more honestly positioned somewhere between Groundhog Day and Saving Private Ryan. Adapted relatively faithfully by Christopher McQuarrie (Jack the Giant Slayer) and brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth from the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka with illustrations by Yoshitoshi Abe, the film is directed by Doug Liman, continuing his cinematic evolution which has taken him from Swingers (1996) through The Bourne Identity (2002) to Jumper (2008) and now here.
Europe has been lost to Mimics, a biomechanical alien race who always seem to be one step ahead of humanity’s United Defense Force who have been taking heavy casualties, unable to withstand the vastly superior technology. With the only chance to regain control is total offensive on both fronts, west and east. From his headquarters in London Major, public affairs officer William Cage participates in the war from behind a desk.
A specialist of military marketing who knows war only from the television broadcasts and morale boosting posters which he creates, Cage is ordered by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson, Harry Potter‘s “Mad-Eye” Moody) to provide coverage from the front lines of the assault on the French beaches. Attempting to extricate himself from what he sees as a suicide mission, Cage threatens to blackmail but is arrested, stripped of his rank and pressganged into service, waking up at the staging area at Heathrow Airport where he is met by Master Sergeant Farell (grizzled genre stalwart Bill Paxton, treating Cage with the full blast of the disdain he himself received nearly thirty years ago as Aliens’ Private William Hudson) and assigned to a misfit unit as befits a deserter.
Terrified and untrained in the use of the powersuit borrowed from the novel of Starship Troopers, that Cage survives as long as he does is a fluke: the mission is a massacre, and in a dugout in the sand, out of ammunition he pulls the pin on a grenade, an honourable death for a coward, taking one of the Mimics with him. But that is not the end for William Cage. Waking up, he is back in handcuffs on the tarmac in England, with precise foreknowledge of everything that is about to happen…
Making an effective and coherent movie where the narrative depends on a time loop is one of the greatest challenges to a filmmaker though also one of the most rewarding when it works, the audience delighting in where each iteration, anticipating the correct moves along with the character: in effect, like the perfectly rehearsed and executed heist movie they are in on the joke, they are complicit.
Where it would be easy to fall into the trap of tired repetition or spoil the elaborately conceived web of cause and effect with cheap gimmicks and holes in temporal logic, once Edge Of Tomorrow has asked the initial buy-in of credulity, despite being constructed from almost identical chains of scenes, not once does it fall into a rut, a well-balanced machine sprinting forward powered by equal portions of action, drama, character and light, unforced humour.
Playing against his usual uncompromised hero persona as the flawed but determined Major William Cage, Tom Cruise exceeds all expectations, a far cry from his appearance in the pretty but dull Oblivion. A coward and a rookie who is easier to relate to than a hardened soldier, he at first irritates then raises sympathy when he is trapped in a situation where he is lost and out of his depth but evolves into a real soldier, a war machine of blood and bone.
Opposite Cruise is Emily Blunt’s Sergeant Rita Vrataski, warily living up to her reputation as the hero of Verdun, her transformation different, from strong and crude full metal bitch to a troubled and resolute woman developing first respect then even warmth towards Cage. Supported by Game of Thrones’ Noah Taylor as Mimic expert Doctor Carter and a team which includes Robin Hood’s Jonas Armstrong, the acting of all is natural, honest and never draws attention from the story.
With the design and motion of the Mimics a cross between the Sentinels of The Matrix and the worst of H P Lovecraft’s nightmares, the film is vast in scope, yet surprisingly accessible; how often is a major science fiction war film set in London and Paris, even in near ruins? The battle scenes, especially the disastrous landing of the human forces on the beach, is epic in scope yet intimate in the telling, with the infamous green screen limited to the barest minimum and practical effects and pyrotechnics used where possible, giving a veracity which is missing in so many Hollywood blockbusters.