Warner Bros presents a Doug Liman film. Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth. 113 minutes/PG-13
The title says “Edge of Tomorrow,” but the movie is really about yesterday. Here is a fine action film, crafted squarely within the best traditions of cinema sci-fi. If it weren’t for the 21st century special effects, you’d swear Edge of Tomorrow was a classic 1950s futuristic adventure. It’s about alien enemies, the military and a humongous sea urchin that holds the keys to time. What about that doesn’t sound great?
Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage, an officer in the military during a long and intense war against an alien invasion. Cage is a sort of “morale officer,” a PR man who makes the rounds on cable news raising money, support and favor for the global war efforts. That’s why he’s floored when a General (Brendan Gleeson) tells him he’ll need to don a battle suit and take part in an amphibious assault. Cage refuses and is arrested as a deserter, eventually falling in with J Company and their obnoxious Master Sargent named Ferrell (Bill Paxton). The assault turns out to be a massive slaughter, and Cage is killed…until he wakes up, back in handcuffs at the base and the start of the day.
Eventually he finds another soldier to whom this has happened (Emily Blunt). Together they realize that this power is a weapon of the enemy and that, until the source of it is destroyed, the aliens cannot be defeated. Their journey to destroy the “Omega” (the mysterious substance that manipulates time) wisely veers away from “buddy film” conventions and is a more raw, desperate trek that both of them seem to realize is hopeless for at least one of them. There’s sexual tension of course (at this point in movies it must be required that every male and female lead be at least on the brink of getting together).
The nature and origin of the aliens is not discussed, another thing Edge of Tomorrow shares in common with throwback sci-fi flicks. Many of those older pictures had Earth simply being invaded by Invaders; where they were from, how they related to their mothers, etc, was not a plot point. Here, there’s the time-bending metaphysical thing, and the fact that the aliens really want to Kill Everybody; that’s pretty much it. It’s refreshing to see a movie appreciate, and not oversell, its own clichés. Fans of contemporary conspiracy literature will enjoy a cameo from a famous museum that serves as the field for the third act.
Story drives Edge of Tomorrow. Trailers for the film sold it as a thumping, explosive action movie. Those who buy a ticket hoping to see two hours of the trailers will be sorely disappointed. By my estimation, there are two sustained action sequences, the longer of which is about 4 minutes and comes near the beginning; that’s not exactly the Michael Bay Way. The screenplay (by Christopher McQuarrie and brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth) stays focused on the fates of its characters and the resolutions-but not explanations-of its mysteries. Edge of Tomorrow isn’t profound, and why should it be? Too many writers think profundity is something that can be injected into the arm of a thriller. Sometimes a thriller is just a thriller, and that’s OK.
Tom Cruise has found, like Liam Neeson, a comfortable rhythm in the action genre. Cruise isn’t really a great actor, but he is a great movie star. He has the quality most important to the success of actor vehicles: Magnetism. Cruise has some fine scenes here, particularly when Cage is still a terrified PR man bumbling his way across a futuristic version of Omaha Beach. Emily Blunt is a good casting call; she wears a tough sexiness and is, in the movie’s crucial moments, a compelling hero.
Is there still an audience for movies like Edge of Tomorrow? I hope so. I fear the Transformers crowd will be bored and the critics who loved Source Code will ask, “Where’s the filling?” That’s too bad. Edge of Tomorrow is an exciting and-more importantly-interesting science fiction adventure. It’s a win for director Doug Liman, who was responsible for another classically structured action movie, The Bourne Identity. Liman is not afraid of embracing yesterday, and that’s a great thing for tomorrow.