Sure, he’s produced and starred in four Mission: Impossible films, but while he’s very good at running—from things, toward things—and looking great while doing it (belying his 51 years), his heart has always beat best being Tom Cruise, Actor.
He made Top Gun and followed it up with The Color of Money. After Mission: Impossible came Magnolia. Valkyrie followed soon after…Tropic Thunder?
Ok, so he does comedy, too. But love him or hate him (or simply find him couch-jumping crazy), he’s never had a role quite like Maj. William Cage—and his outrageously entertaining new science-fiction film, Edge of Tomorrow, offers something for everyone.
While director Doug Liman has made hits like The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, this easily could have become another high-concept, low-return failure like Jumper. Hell, look at that name: Edge of Tomorrow. If there’s any glaring flaw in the film, it’s that the movie’s producers should have trusted their original title: All You Need Is Kill, the same as the Hiroshi Sakurazaka novel on which it’s based. Not to mention that, for a summer tentpole that’s not based on a video game, it certainly evokes the mechanics of a game like Gears of War more than anything before it—and I don’t mean this as an insult.
While actual video game-derived movies have consistently failed, Liman’s latest perfectly captures the experience of playing a game. Cage is literally dropped into battle, like a freshly created avatar inside a world war that’s been raging for years. News reports under the opening credits inform us that a meteor struck Germany, millions died and an alien threat emerged: the fast-moving, squid-like Mimics. So far, so video game.
An opening scene posits Cage in a meeting at the London office of Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), leader of the United Defense Force, where we learn that Cage has no combat training. He might be a major in the UDF, but he was the owner of an advertising agency when the world went to hell. Out of business, he became the head of army media relations.
Brigham informs Cage that he’s to be embedded with a camera crew during this war’s D-Day, surrounded by thousands of soldiers wearing “Jackets,” clunky-looking but powerful exoskeletons that boost combatants’ fighting abilities, speed and agility. Amusingly, the assault will take place on the beaches of Normandy, with the Jacket-wearing grunts hoping for final victory against the Mimics.
Cage flashes that Tom Cruise smile while refusing the direct order of Brigham, who tells Cage he’s free to go. But the second that Cage sets foot outside the office, the general orders some nearby MPs to “arrest this man.” So, what’s Cage to do? Why, burst into that famous Tom Cruise Run!
And then get tasered.
Waking up in the barracks of a massive airfield, he’s informed by Master Sgt. Farell (Bill Paxton in one of the movie’s many just right casting choices) that he’s been reduced in rank to private and that he’s to be “combat ready by morning.”
If by “combat ready” Farell meant a sweaty, terrified mess whose legs would probably buckle if not for the metal Jacket supporting them, and who can’t figure out how to turn off his arm-mounted gun’s safety setting, then Cage passes muster.
The ensuing battle is a complete slaughter. The Mimics knew this “surprise” attack was coming, and within minutes of this tremendously well-staged sequence (the first of many), Cage is dead.
And then he wakes up in the barracks of a massive airfield, informed by Farell that he’s to be combat ready by morning.
I’ll note the film’s tagline here: “Live. Die. Repeat.”
Déjà vu equals death; we discover that Cage is trapped within the plot of Groundhog Day, only unlike Bill Murray’s Phil Connors, the different variations on the day always end with him dying in an inventively excruciating manner—mining nearly as many laughs as you’d find in Murray’s classic comedy.
During one of his battlefield failures, he encounters the legendary “Full Metal Bitch,” Rita Vrataski (a chiseled Emily Blunt), who tells him to “come find me when you wake up,” resigning herself to imminent doom.
Things only get more interesting—and clever—from here.
The video game trope of repeating actions until you’re able to proceed a little… bit… further amazingly never grows stale; the variations remain fresh, and there’s a real mystery to what’s happening, one you feel like you’re solving alongside Cage and Vrataski.
Fans of Cruise will eat this up, while those who aren’t will also delight as the man who never wanted to be an action hero dives into the role of a coward, with haters rewarded with the chance to watch the actor die countless times, in hilarious ways befitting the best of Wile E. Coyote and his encounters with Acme’s finest anvils.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself buying a ticket all over again after the movie is over. I’ll see you back in line.
Edge of Tomorrow
Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way, Kick Gurry, Franz Drameh, Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley, Masayoshi Haneda, Terence Maynard, Noah Taylor and Brendan Gleeson. Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, based on the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Directed by Doug Liman. At Boston Common, Fenway and in the suburbs.