Sure, the first act of Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow will push you to the edge of your patience. There sure is a bunch of sloppy storytelling to wade through before the fun starts. Prepare to slap your forehead once or twice whilst groaning in frustration. But stick with it. At some point the fun does start, and once it does, it hardly lets up for the duration of the movie. This is a film that sneaks up on you even if you’re consciously trying to hate it. Such is the magic of Tom Cruise’s couch-hopping charisma. Even if you want to dislike the man for his offscreen meltdown(s) about a decade back, you just can’t not be charmed whenever he flashes his probably trademarked “That Lovin’ Feelin’” smirk.
The Groundhog Day meets Matrix premise is nothing I couldn’t have come up with on my ten second walk to the shower. It’s not the idea, it’s how Doug Liman and his screenwriters implemented it. This film works because it took full advantage of the Groundhog Day conceit, weaving suspense and humor and action all into the infinite loop of this same dreadful day repeating over and over. There is plenty of potential humor in this concept, especially in the wildly shifting priorities of the main character. Groundhog Day, the 1993 Bull Murray comedy, nailed this humor perfectly. I’m thinking of Murray’s daily encounters with his old chum who’d just love to sell him some life insurance. Plenty of this kind of joke in Edge of Tomorrow, which is a good thing.
But Groundhog Day was a comedy to start with. Edge of Tomorrow’s challenge was to take this concept, embrace its inherent silliness, yet keep the stakes high enough, the danger real enough, that we actually worry for the character. I think Liman got the mix right, and the result is a fun sci-fi flick that brings the ‘plosions but actually gets the characters right, too. Michael Bay, you should take a look at this movie. As long as you have someone sitting next to you to tell you what’s going on.
The story concerns a Matrix-squidbot-inspired alien menace well on their way to taking over the world. Earth has been fighting back, but with diminishing returns. The aliens always seem to be one step ahead of us. Tom Cruise plays Cage, a pansy media representative for the armed forces. He’s never actually fought in a battle, but he’s great at talking about the military on prime time talk shows. For reasons I’m still unclear on, the higher-ups in the military decide that it will be great for morale if Cage—essentially the “face” of the army—participates in at least one real battle. A small one. No big deal.
It doesn’t matter that he has extremely limited military training because the military has these futuristic robot fighting suits that can be operated “with limited military training.” Cage ain’t happy about this, but eventually the powers-that-be succeed in cramming him into a robot suit anyway and shipping him off to what turns out to be a disastrous ambush. Cage, who is so limitedly trained that he doesn’t even know how to turn off his gun’s safety, soon finds himself face to face with a rare blue squid alien. What happens next you’ll have to see to not-believe. At the cost of his own life, Cage somehow manages to kill the alien, which proceeds to leak what I can only describe as “time-travel juice” all over Cruise’s dead body. Hence his resulting “Groundhog Day” abilities.
Sounds a bit bizarre. And it was. But you have to sort of give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt on the whole time-travel juice thing. Coming up with an official explanation for why a man suddenly has the ability to relive the same day over and over again was bound to be a sloppy task. It’s just too insane a concept in the first place, unless you’re playing it for laughs, as was obviously the case with Bill Murray’s classic film. I just thought of something. Imagine if Groundhog Day had attempted to provide a rational explanation for why Murray’s character could suddenly time jump. Wow, that would have gotten lame real fast!
Anyway, thanks to the awkward storytelling band-aide that was the time-travel juice, Edge of Tomorrow finally transforms into the film we’ve been waiting for: Groundhog Day meets The Matrix! Cage go through all the requisite shock and denial, but ultimately he comes to understand that he’s indeed caught in a Bill Murray time loop. There’s even this awesome moment when he literally turns to the camera and says, “This is just like what happened to Bill Murray!”
This wacko experience is not unique to Cage. Badass warrior-babe Rita, played by Emily Blunt—who I’m now officially a fan of—was once caught in a Groundhog Day of her own, so she knows the drill. She’d used her former time-loop experience to get very very good at killing squid aliens. Nowadays she’s the most decorated officer in the army. She can’t time travel anymore, but she has a plan to eliminate the alien menace once and for all. Eventually she recruits Tom Cruise to this end, and the two of them set about fine-tuning the guy’s “instant-replay” lifestyle in a way that will facilitate their saving the world.
Emily Blunt is great in this movie, especially playing off Tom Cruise. The two of them manage to conjure up some real chemistry in this film. That’s all you can reasonably ask of a big-budget summer action film; if you expect any more you’re just getting greedy. Plus, the plot device of this movie allows us to see that sweet trailer moment of Emily Blunt doing her sexy workout routine over and over again, on loop. As the day keeps reseting, we experience and re-experience the same exact shot and camera angle of her doing a sort of sexily sweaty pushup. I wasn’t sure if the filmmakers were poking fun at themselves with such unapologetic Blunt-sploitation, or if they legitimately had no idea they were being corny.
I went in to this movie with the premeditated gripe that Emily Blunt was going to be hard to swallow as a battle-hardened she-warrior. For one thing—thought I—her long flowing locks of silky blonde hair would surely get caught up in the many moving gears of her robot suit, presumably making it difficult for her to concentrate on the fighting. Also, she didn’t seem to have quite the Sarah Conner build for the role. I was fully expecting this to be one of those movies like Dark Knight Rises, where we had to sit there and pretend to buy a pasty, petite Anne Hathaway knocking out a bunch of Batman villians out via high-heeled crescent kick.
But I have to say, Blunt completely won me over. I think it was her wounded, bombardier stare. Or maybe the way she did push-ups. Either way, I totally buy her as a Linda Hamilton-in-T2 calibre action hero, long flowing hair notwithstanding. Plus, she’s got what I like to call a “strongface,” which is to say: a gloriously lean and firm face that looks like it will exist unchanged for thousands of years. A strongface is a major asset to any budding female action star. Anyway, I’ve already applied for membership into the Emily Blunt fan club and my status is pending.
Still, there’s plenty of I-wish-they-didn’t in this movie. Again, the corniness and improbability runs rampant in the first act. It plays out like director Doug Liman hadn’t yet figured out what kind of tone he wanted for the movie and therefore decided to use the first twenty-five minutes as a kind of storytelling sandbox. Like I’ve said before, the biggest thing that sticks out is the fact that the army is willing to shove anyone—regardless of training or experience—into an expensive robot suit and then rudely airdrop him into a battle and say, “Have fun!”
It’s not just Cruise. There’s like severely overweight dudes and mega-nerds and tattooed mugger-types all in the same platoon. It’s like the freaking X-Men. This movie thought it was being clever by going against the grain, casting against the “military” type, but the cliche stolid and gruff soldier we see in so many war movies could have served a useful function here: to ground an otherwise wildly unbelievable movie in some version of reality. As it is, it’s just implausibility stacked on implausibility. Weird tattooed loser dudes in robot suits fighting squid aliens that also time travel.
It’s a rough take-off for sure, but once the Groundhog Day device kicks into gear, Edge of Tomorrow finds a sweet spot of tone and chemistry. It starts to work in unexpected ways. Liman has just enough fun with the format to keep us laughing, but never lets the joke get old. This is not to say the movie never again stumbles after it’s first act tonal listlessness. In keeping true to the Hollywood trend of villian-castrating climactic sequences where the heroes couldn’t be killed even if they wanted to, Edge of Tomorrow has an extended third-act sequence in a crashing airplane that had me groaning audibly. It felt like the kind of escapades you see in a Peter Jackson Hobbit movie, where eight thousand bloodthirsty orcs can’t seem to so much as bruise a small band of charmed heroes. During this particular plane sequence, there were many many moments where I was like “How the hell did they not get decapitated and/or incinerated?”
Still, that’s just typical Hollywood silliness, and every movie in Edge of Tomorrow’s weight class suffers from this same malady. This movie separates itself from the pack with fun storytelling and, much more importantly, great casting. After leaving the theatre it occurred to me that I’d be totally cool with seeing this movie again on DVD or television. I’d happily relive this day again, you might say. Such a thing is very very rare for me these days. So often, I leave a movie theatre in hate with Hollywood and whatever director just wasted three hours of my life. Going in, I was positive Edge of Tomorrow was going to be another of those movies. And then Emily Blunt started doing pushups.
For more sarcastic movie reviews, click the link to see what I think of last year’s Ender’s Game.
Oh, and if you’re interested, here’s the trailer…