Ten or fifteen years ago a summer blockbuster like Edge Of Tomorrow would have been received as a superb film, a crowd-pleasing spectacle which delivers on every front. In 2014, released in a time where remakes, reboots, sequels, teen fiction, and superhero movies rule supreme, Edge Of Tomorrow is a phenomenon. It’s a smelling salt cracked under the noses of anyone who is bored senseless by the large majority of ‘tent pole’ releases and acts a reminder of what can be achieved when true talent is assembled.
A triangle, they say, is the strongest structure and this can be applied to the basic foundation of film making; director, writer, actors. Doug Liman, Christopher McQuarrie, and Tom Cruise must share equal praise for the success of their movie because if just one of them didn’t deliver, or if they were substituted for someone less talented, then this film could have been very, very different. Imagine the same basic story but with Gavin Hood directing a screenplay by Skip Woods starring Channing Tatum and you’ll understand what I mean.
The overriding element to the success is that this is character-driven action, meaning nothing goes ‘boom’ unless it is in service of the characters. McQuarrie’s screenplay (with Jez and John-Henry Butterworth) blends action and character together deceivingly well, for it’s easy to take for granted just how clever the writing and structure is if you’re caught up in the excitement of it all (which you surely will be). By making Tom Cruise’s character Bill Cage a military man who is more suited to the TV screens than he is the battlefield, the writers enable us, the audience, to learn everything at Cage’s pace at first, and then stay one step ahead of everyone else as the film progresses. What at first is confusing and unexpected becomes familiar but twists and turns along the way ensure we never know what is going to happen or when. The stakes are constantly raised and the goal, whilst always to defeat the enemy, shifts as Cage learns more and more with this extraordinary power he has.
Moreover, the film is full of humour which is unexpected from an alien invasion blockbuster. This is crucial for it gives the film a perfect balance between action, character moments, and light relief, unlike so many films which feel the need to go down the ‘dark and gritty and realistic’ route whilst never making the audience believe in whatever it is that’s happening. Edge Of Tomorrow is a fantastical sci-fi story and not supposed to be taken seriously even whilst you’re watching it (the MacGuffin the screenwriters pull out halfway through nods to this) but for those two hours you are sold on the premise not because of the promise of action and destruction but by the characters you are on this journey with. Again, this comes back to the protagonist, Cage, who is a PR puppet, not a hard-as-nails soldier, so why shouldn’t there be moments of levity?
I also appreciated the strong female lead Rita Vrataski as played by Emily Blunt. AKA ‘Full Metal Bitch’ she takes on the kind of role you’d expect Cruise to play if you didn’t know any better and is totally convincing as the poster-girl for the human resistance, someone Bill Cage could only dream of being as brave as. Once again, this is all down to the writing; it could have been two men in the lead, but McQuarrie et al know better than this. They know how important it is to go against the norm but not resort to stereotype.
Doug Liman is no stranger to crowd pleasing action movies as evidenced with Mr And Mrs Smith and The Bourne Identity but he’s never taken on a project of this scale before, yet the evidence on screen confirms his talent we saw in those earlier pictures and then takes him to the next level. The set-piece of the human army storming the beaches of France reminds us of a futuristic Saving Private Ryan but with aliens instead of Germans and exo-suit armour where all weapons are attached to the soldier. The scale of this scene, which we see several times in various scenarios, is enormous but it always sticks true to its battlefield design and never wanders in to mini action sequences or away from the plot. Liman is in complete control of his geography and we know at all times where the characters are and what is happening; this may sound like the very basics but it’s an ever-decreasing concern for most action directors today.
I also liked that the exo-suits were used as ‘real world’ armour, not needing a scene where the gadgets are explained or shown in detail to the audience for this is the evolution of warfare against the aliens from the outset; this could have been made into a big deal and sold into Toys R Us, but it’s just part of the detail in Liman’s vision. Compare this to the exo-suit which comes into play in Elysium and you’ll see what I mean.
Even though the film is set in London and Paris, Liman doesn’t resort to showing us the destruction of the cities or famous monuments falling down (save for one shot) but does use the locations to his full advantage which gives the film a different, and welcome, look to the usual blockbusters. The all action finale is arguably my favourite sequence, taking place at night in Paris, with a hoard of aliens chasing Cruise and Blunt… It looked awesome on the IMAX screen and this deserves the biggest screen you can see it on.
I’m under no illusions that Edge Of Tomorrow is not a wholly original idea, but it’s a concept I’ve never seen delivered on this scale. Yes, it’s based on a little known (by Marvel and DC standards) Japanese graphic novel and, yes, we’ve seen time-loop tales before in different genres but this film stands apart on its own when all the elements are brought together. This level of intelligence, spectacle, fun, and sheer enjoyment is something I haven’t experienced, it feels, for a long time at the cinema. Other films have had some of those elements, but Edge Of Tomorrow has them all.
I’ve mentioned McQuarrie, Liman, and touched on Blunt, but I save the Tom Cruise factor for last. I quote the great Roger Ebert who once said, and this is a sentiment I have always held true, “movie stars really do make a difference. I insist on it” and in Tom Cruise we have the last true movie star. He is a man who simply wants to entertain and give audiences something they’ve never experienced before; he can get any film made on his name alone because one thing is guaranteed and that is 100% commitment to the audience. In Edge Of Tomorrow he isn’t a cocksure ace but a very flawed man who is scared of dying; a coward, you could say. It’s a departure not only for Cruise but for action movie protagonists in general but this isn’t to say we don’t want him to play the talented hero again (Mission: Impossible 5 cannot arrive soon enough for me) but it’s great to see him tackling this kind of character again; think War of the Worlds, Rain Man, Eyes Wide Shut, and Magnolia if you want other examples of where he’s played a flawed character before. This movie star is an actor too, remember, and his performance in Edge Of Tomorrow is perfect for the film it sets out to be.
Stop thinking for yourself verdict: Edge of Tomorrow delivers everything you’d want from a blockbuster film and so much more. This is why the art form is unique. This is why the big screen experience is still worth your Dollar, Euro, or Pound. This is why we go to the movies.